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The Gods

February 10, 2013

If, driven by an old compulsion, we were to define what the gods were to the Greeks, we might say, using the principle of Occam’s razor, everything that takes us away from the ordinary sensations of life. “With a god, you are always crying and laughing,” we read in Sophocles’ Ajax. Life as mere vegetative protraction, glazed eyes looking out on the world, the certainty of being oneself, without knowing what one is: such a life has no need of a god. It is the realm of the spontaneous atheism of the homme naturel

But when something undefined and powerful shakes mind and fiber and trembles the cage of our bones, when the person who only a moment before was dull and agnostic is suddenly rocked by laughter and homicidal frenzy, or by the pangs of love, or by the hallucination of form, or finds his face streaming with tears, then the Greek realizes he is not alone. Somebody else stands beside him, and that somebody is a god. He no longer has the clam clarity of perception he had in his mediocre state of existence. Instead, that clarity has migrated into his divine companion. A sharp clarity against the sky, the god is resplendent, while the person who evoked him is left confused and overwhelmed.

From Roberto Calasso’s brilliant and beautiful The Marriage of Cadmus and Harmony, an exploration, retelling, and contemplation of Greek myth.

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