Our modern Greek tragedy

Ancient history can play a relevant role today

These days, in my free time, I find myself playing Sid Meier’s Civilization V. Even though the new game—Civilization: Beyond Earth—came out, I can’t bring myself to play it. I just love the ancient world and the dawn of human civilization. That we came from nothing and built the human race on slowly progressing technology blows my mind. Even in the wee morning of human existence, we managed to construct wonders such as the Colossus of Rhodes, the Pyramids of Gaza, and the fabled Hanging Gardens of Babylon. Considering the technology available at the time, historians and architects still do not know exactly how these structures were built. But as sad as I am to admit it, not many people nowadays have a burning interest in the ancient world or even mythology, from which almost all fantasy literature attributes inspiration from.

I don’t know if American public schools are still teaching The Odyssey or other mythological stories anymore, but when I was in elementary and middle school, I read all these stories on my own. My favorite tale begins with Perseus and his quest to slay the Gorgon Medusa, a hideous human-like figure with living snakes instead of hair. Other tales include the coming of Ragnarok and Set’s conniving plot against Osiris. These stories, imbued with heroic ideals, instill courage and greatness in those that read them. I’ll admit, I was a bit of a nerd when I was in summer camp. I was that kid that read books outside, and when we played tag, I pretended I was Heracles on a quest to tag someone. I also loved the real time strategy game, Age of Mythology, which included all these mythological figures for me to use in battle. The game even included in-depth descriptions for units in the game that I wouldn’t have otherwise known about.

In my defense, I’m not the only one influenced by Greek or ancient ideals; most of society has adopted them in one form or another. Modern architecture, philosophy, and even scientific thinking, derive their origins from major Greek figures, such as Aristotle, Pythagoras, Archimedes, amongst a sea of others. Now, I’m not saying that we need to emulate these ideas or beliefs directly, but that we should understand what they are so that we can find inspiration within them. I mean, almost all Greek epics are centered on this mighty hero that can fight off powerful mythological beasts. However, they all have a certain character weakness, in most cases, hubris or an actual physical weakness on their body, like the Achilles heel. And if you pick any modern young adult novel, they usually include a protagonist that must fight off some evil and must overcome some weakness they have, as in The Hunger Games or The Maze Runner. Whether or not people realize it, these stories contain the essence of Grecian tales, and I think it’s pretty interesting that something so ancient could still be relevant in modern times.