Saturday, March 14, 2009

Big Love and Its Alcibiades

So I told my family that the next post would be an update on the kiddies, but there’s a far less important subject that’s been in the news and on my mind so I thought I’d jump on that before no one cares anymore. Hey, this is my blog – get your own!

Let me tell you, it’s been a real treat to read the news lately especially the stuff that’s on the net regarding my church, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The latest episode regarding the HBO series, Big Love, has certainly held my attention. If you don’t know the details, sorry, I’m not going to go through it here. I prefer to keep this site at its currently dignified, lofty, and majestic level. You can check that stuff out on your own. It’s everywhere.

There is of course an ancient precedent to the events happening in our society; and one from which I think we could learn quite a bit. While you probably will, I usually never tire of putting things in an historical context. This particular ancient episode is a small footnote in history that is probably overlooked by most historians as unimportant. That’s because in the realm of religious history, most historians have no idea how to relate.

As I recall, the year was around August of 415 BC – ahh I remember it well (you should be seeing a wavy image on the screen as I rub my chin). There once was a very impetuous, but well-loved and heroic Athenian general named Alcibiades who was fond of the booze. While on a leave of absence from the campaign against the Spartans during the Peloponnesian War, he got a little too wild at a party. Wild parties among the elite were pretty normal and a great deal of bacchanalia was usually tolerated. But Alcibiades crossed the line and did something so bad, so irresponsible, and so disrespectful, that the Athenian people allowed the accusations of slaves and resident aliens to determine the fate of Athens’ great general, and also the course of their history.

Now before I tell you what he did, you need to know a little about Greek culture. The Greeks aren’t easily offended. These are the guys that invented freedom of speech, that allowed regular, non-royal guys like Plato, Socrates, Aristotle, Thucidydes, and Xenophon a voice. They even insulted kings, political leaders, and religious followers as part of a sacrament to the Gods in their yearly religious ceremonies. So what did Alcibiades do? He made a mockery of the Eleusinian Mysteries by donning the robes of the High Priest and re-enacting the ritual at his own home during this party.

Your next question should be (no, not “when is he going to get to the point?” but…) “what are the Eleusinian Mysteries?” I’ve only been waiting for you to ask that question for years, but I’ll try to keep this short. The mysteries of Eleusis are sacred rituals named after their location near Athens, Greece. The best way to get up close and personal with God (which was difficult for Greeks back in those days) was to be initiated into these mysteries. That involved entering a temple built on that site (and which stood for hundreds of years); ritual cleansing; taking oaths of secrecy that expressly forbade talking about or showing the rituals to anyone outside the temple especially the uninitiated; re-enacting mythology; and at the end being taken into the central room and introduced to the highest mystery. There are a few other details that exist, but since oaths of secrecy were taken seriously, we don’t know much more than that.

[Above is the location of the Anactorion - what would have been considered the Holy of Holies - at Eleusis, where initiates were revealed the mysteries of the goddess Demeter.]

Alcibiades was condemned to death, his estate was confiscated, his name was decreed a public curse (interestingly a priestess refused to curse him, on the reason that her voice was devoted to prayer not curses). He fled Athens to avoid execution.

While I’m certainly glad we live in a more free society than 415 BC Athens, and that no American court condemns people to death for revealing sacred ceremonies, I’m dismayed at how quickly Americans break oaths. Furthermore, it’s amazing how readily the oath is broken when money is offered (Big Love stated that they had an ex-Mormon “informant”). Secular humanists or atheists might say that an oath to a god that doesn’t exist isn’t really an oath, or has no efficacy. But oaths made in the temple are not just between God and the individual but include numerous witnesses – other people. An oath between humans should be one of, if not the highest measure of trust among those who deny the existence of God - what else is there?

Ultimately, there is no logical excuse for breaking an oath regardless the individuals or entities with whom the oath is made. As a kid, I was always taught that “a man is only as good as his word.” I wonder when and how it became acceptable to not worry about that.

Speaking of which, I guess I’d better get on that entry about my family!


  1. I never would have believed the Greeks had such great stories. And I really like the pictures you added to this blog. My neighbors two doors down are from Greece (they live in Toronto in the winter to escape the heat????).
    Colin says these Big Love guys are: heaping coals on their heads.
    PS your wallpaper is terrific!

  2. Jules! Do you remember the scene in My Big Fat Greek Wedding where the main character's father states that all language and history is Greek in origin? Yeah, that's me. Mikki likes to remind me of that whenever I keep it real with the Greeks - the inventors of great stories!

    And yeah, Colin's right. I guess it's the world we live in.

    Thanks for your compliments. It was tough finding a background that looked like a pile of dirt, but I think I nailed it! Thanks for your help on that.