A Different Blue
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Manny's Uncle Sal worked on a crew with the forest service. They frequently cleared scrub and brush and kept the mesquite from encroaching on government owned ranches. Last time Sal had come through for me, I had enough wood to last me two months of serious carving. I drooled at the thought.
“Of course, that means you will owe me, chica,” Manny suggested innocently. “Dinners for at least a month of Mondays, okay?”
I just laughed at his negotiating skills. He already owed me for two months of Mondays. But we both knew I would agree. I always did.
Maybe it was the stories I was drawn to. Every day it was a new story. And quite frequently, the stories were about women in history, or told from the perspective of the women. Maybe it was just Mr. Wilson's obvious love of he subject he taught. Maybe it was simply his cool accent and his youth. The entire student body tried to mimic him. Girls crowded around him, and the boys watched him, fascinated, as if a rockstar had descended into our midsts. He was the talk of the school, an overnight sensation, instantly beloved because he was a novelty – and a very attractive novelty if you liked slightly unruly hair and grey eyes and British accents, which I told myself I did not. He was definitely not my type. Still, I found myself looking forward to my last class of the day with irritating impatience and was probably more adversarial than I would have otherwise been simply because I was puzzled by his allure.
Mr. Wilson had spent an entire month on the ancient Greeks. We had discussed epic battles, deep thinkers, architecture, and art, but today Wilson was detailing the different gods and what each represented. It was actually pretty fascinating, I had to admit, but incredibly irrelevant. I volunteered this observation, of course.
“This isn't exactly history,” I pointed out.
“The myths may not be historical fact, but the fact that the Greeks believed in them is,” Wilson responded patiently. “You must understand that Greek gods are an intrinsic part of Greek mythology. Our introduction to the ancient Greek gods can be traced all the way back to the writings of Homer in the Iliad and the Odyssey. Many scholars believe that the myths were actually influenced by the Mycenaean culture that existed in Greece between 1700 and 1100 BC. There is also evidence that the beginnings of Greek mythology can be traced back to the ancient Middle Eastern cultures of Mesopotamia and Anatolia because of the similarities between the mythology of these ancient Middle Eastern cultures and the ancient Greeks.”
We all just stared at him. What he'd said was about as clear as mud. He seemed to take note of our “huh?” expressions.
“The Greeks had a god to explain everything.” Wilson wasn't about to be deterred, and he dug into his argument. “The sunrises, the sunsets, their tragedies and their triumphs were all connected to the existence of these gods. In many ways, their gods brought sense to a senseless world. A strangely-shaped rock could be said to be a god disguised as a stone, or an unusually large tree might be a god in disguise as well. And that tree would be worshipped for fear that the god would retaliate. There were gods everywhere, and everything could be used as evidence of their existence. Wars were started in the names of the gods, oracles were consulted and their advice heeded, however hurtful or strange or bizarre that advice might be. Even the storm winds were personified. They were thought to be harpies – winged women who snatched things up, just like the wind, never to be seen again. Storm winds and the weather that came with them were blamed on these winged creatures.”
“I thought a harpy was just an old-fashioned word for witch,” a pimply kid named Bart volunteered. I was thinking the same thing but was glad someone else decided to speak up.
“In early versions of Greek myth, harpies were described as lovely-haired creatures, as beautiful women with wings. That changed over time, and in Roman mythology they were described as hideous-faced beasts with talons and even beaks. Hideous, nasty, bird-women. That image has persisted over time. Dante described the seventh hell in his Inferno as a place where harpies lived in the woods and tormented those who were sent there.” Wilson started reciting the poem, apparently from memory.
“Here the repellent harpies make their nests,
Who drove the Trojans from the Strophades
With dire announcements of the coming woe.
They have broad wings, a human neck and face,
Clawed feet and swollen, feathered bellies; they caw
Their lamentations in the eerie trees.”
“You have that lovely poem memorized, I see,” I said sarcastically, although I was mostly dumbfounded. Wilson burst out laughing, his serious face transformed by the action. I even cracked a smile. At least the guy could laugh at himself. Wow! Talk about a NERD. Who quoted Dante at will? And with that stuffy British accent I was sure he was going to say, “It's elementary, Miss Echohawk,” every time I asked him a question. He was still smiling when he continued.
“To answer your question, Miss Echohawk, what we believe affects our world in a very real way. What we believe affects our choices, our actions, and subsequently, our lives. The Greeks believed in their gods, and this belief affected everything else. History is written according to what men believe, whether or not it's true. As the writer of your own history, what you believe influences the paths you take. Do you believe in something that may be a myth? I'm not talking about religious beliefs, per se. I'm talking about things you've told yourself, or things you've been told for so long that you just assume that they are true.”