Classicists Are Stupid: Part ∞
Or, Why statues get torn down
Perhaps you’ve noticed that Greek gods and heroes do a lot of stupid shit, like the time that Zeus’ wife got wind of his girlfriend, so he turned his girlfriend into a cow, but then his wife discovered the girlfriend-cow … yada yada yada Zeus hides his girlfriend-cow in Egypt. You know, a typical suburban Tuesday night.
Maybe you think “wow, Zeus is messed up.” The ancients thought that too. And that’s key to understanding (1) ancient gods and heroes, (2) why statues get torn down, and (3) why so many university professors are morons.
Moron classicists argue that the heroic exchange culminates in the fame and fortune a hero receives for their heroism. Heroes do heroic acts and receive spoils; further, heroes are elevated for their heroic acts.
Cool story bro. Too bad it’s wrong. This conception of the hero is a modern corruption of ancient Greek sensibilities, which is to say, you couldn’t step outside your small Victorian world to access the depths of the past. Shame you teach students.
For the ancient Greeks, the heroic exchange is recognition and perpetuation of the hero’s life after the hero’s death. It is the elevation of the hero’s story into the culture and perpetuation of that story throughout the culture and across time. Critically, the hero’s story includes virtues and vices; Greek heroes were — as if it couldn’t be any more obvious — not universally virtuous. They were heroes, not saints. (Thomas Jefferson may have owned slaves, but Heracles murdered his children, and had slaves, and was a slave, and was a cross-dresser. He also may have murdered his wife.) The idea of the hero recognizes great achievement in great times of virtue steeped in vice; it does not exclude vice or weakness or cross-dressing murderers.
And yet, we’ve erased this conception from modernity. The heroic exchange in capitalism and Marxism is equally material — actual, physical reward during your life. Such mythologies range from the top-hatted Rockefeller to the Bolshevik who redistributes the top-hats; the heroic act is fueled by the same teleological materialism. As these mythologies grew wan, we’ve taken to synthesizing the hero exchange into the immediate intoxication of fame — Hollywood starlets and bohemian rock pirates and Instagram influencers.
None of this has anything to do with what the ancient Greeks would value in heroism.
The purpose of elevating the often complicated and curiously conflicted to hero status in ancient Greece was to affix the story in cultural memory because, for the Greeks, the foundation of civilization was memory. Memory was the institution of Greece, and you were Greek if you shared these memories. This memory was the fount of all other civilizing forces.
In some ways, we know and recognize this truth. Education is largely the custodian of memory (K12 — memory transfer; college — memory production/transfer). And competing against this ancient conception of civilization is Marxist historiography (i.e. history is written by those who hold power; to take the power, you must rewrite history). Lenin’s “contribution” to Marxist “thought” is mostly this reverse engineering — power to history instead of history to power — which devolves into the attempted manipulation of reality.
Which brings us to the modern craze of toppling statues; doing so is an exhibition in Marxist historiography and confirmation of ignorance. A statue — an elevation across time — is a recognition of the hero beyond death, often of heroes with vices or heroes who received little reward or recognition in life.
To topple a statue is fundamentally a materialist revision of the heroic exchange, to deny the elevation and replace it with the dishonest pseudo-purity of materialism. Statues must be toppled because they are fundamentally anti-materialist (anti-capitalist or anti-Marxist, there is no difference as both are materialist religions).
And statues must be toppled because your children are incapable of holding virtue/vice duality in their minds because they have been miseducated. (Marxists explicitly target children for a reason…)
The ancient conception of the heroic was best expressed in the recognition of Jesus. This story of the hero was not a continuation of the hero exchange; it was a radical transformation wherein the hero is born without sin and offers the permanence of memory through the soul. The ancient Greeks had been searching for precisely such a formulation for centuries and yet could not find the catalyst in the girlfriend-cow-hiding Zeuses of their universe. It is noteworthy that Jesus is not man-who-became-God, which is a modern conception, but rather God-who-became-man (“became” meaning transformation without change). And the ‘memory’ — the permanence the Greeks so sought — was marked in “before Abraham was born, I am.”
It is this non-material transcendence that the Greeks had mined in “Tell me, O Muse, of that ingenious hero” that modern education does not contain and that modern political formulations find profane. The muses were the daughters of memory, the pillars of civilization, and to demand their ideological purification is to demand their death.