Something’s Myth-ing

I came across a Greek myth that captures the current state of the world, in particular the global food crisis, and one that carries a harsh warning: it is not a good idea to piss off the gods. The vengeance can be quite macabre. Nevertheless, mere mortals manage to do it; some even relish it. Erisichthon was one such daredevil, known as a “profane person and a despiser of gods,” according to Bulfinches’, The Illustrated Age of Fable (Stewart, Tabori & Chang, 1998). We’ll call him Eri for short. He chopped down a magnificent old oak in a sacred grove of trees beloved of Ceres, Goddess of Grain and the Harvest (Demeter to the Romans). With the first blow of the axe, the tree bled from its wound. When an early environmentalist tried to block the next hit, Eri just chopped his head off. And then from the depths of the tree, the residing nymph prophesied great vengeance for this terrible act. “I who dwell in this tree am a nymph beloved of Ceres, and dying by your hands, forewarn you that punishment awaits you.” But Eri, undeterred, just hacked away until the great and ancient tree fell.

The Dryads who used to dance around this very tree journeyed to Ceres and asked for retribution. Ceres agreed and as she bowed her head, the grain in the surrounding field also bowed. “She planned a punishment so dire that one would pity him, if such a culprit as he could be pitied – to deliver him over to Famine.” As the Fates had determined that these two goddesses could never be in the same place at the same time, Ceres called on one of the Oreades to do her bidding, and quite the creative punishment it was: to let Famine devour his bowels. So the nymph took Ceres’ chariot and flew off to this far away land where Famine dwelled. It was in a bleak, desolate and icy region of their world where Cold, Fear and Shuddering also dwell. Like January on the prairies I imagine.

The nymph “found Famine in a stony field, pulling up with teeth and claws, the scanty herbage. Her hair was rough, her eyes sunk, her face pale, her lips blanched, her jaws covered with dust, and her skin drawn tight, so as to show all her bones.” And even though the nymph maintained a safe distance, as she delivered Ceres command, she began to feel hungry and couldn’t get out of there fast enough.

Famine obeyed the order and flew to Eri’s home where he was fast asleep. She wrapped her wings around him, breathed poison into his veins, then hightailed it out of the land of plenty. Even in his sleep, Eri began to feel hungry. When he awoke he was ravenous. He ordered a feast set out before him and devoured it. The more he ate, the more food he craved. He could not satisfy his hunger. His humongous and insatiable appetite soon bankrupted him; his daughter was the only “property” he had left. He sold her. She was not amused to find herself a slave and prayed to Neptune for help. The sea god transformed her into a fisherman and she managed to give her new master the slip. When she resumed her old form, her dad was thrilled, because he still had the money from the sale and now he could sell her again! Fortunately Neptune was better at fathering and with every purchase, changed her into various animals so she could escape from her owners. This horrific little arrangement kept her father in food, but he still couldn’t appease the hungry beast within. In the end, he devoured his own body, limb by limb. But even that could not nourish his depraved soul. He perished, finally released from the curse of Ceres. We need only substitute the players, to see how this myth is playing out in the world today.

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