Monday, January 23, 2012

The Greeks Had a Word for It, Dept.

"CHORUS: So that one should wait to see the final day and should call none among mortals fortunate, till he has crossed the bourne of life without suffering grief."
Sophocles, Oedipus Tyrannus (Hugh Scott-Jones, trans., screenshot Loeb Classical Library edition) © 1994 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College.

In reading about the death of Joe Paterno, I saw someone posted the short version of the preceding, "Count no man happy until he is dead," which is Herodotus, from his Histories (I.32)  And very much so in Paterno's case.  Never thought twice about him till the paedo story broke.  Discussing this yesterday, I was hard-pressed to think of someone who went from the top of his or her profession to disgrace then death in such a short period of time.  Not even Michael Jackson, who was, after all, acquitted, even though the stink of suspicion lingered in the nostrils of those who weren't his devout fans.

We take the ancient Greek word "hubris" to mean a downfall following arrogance, particularly by the powerful.  The original, according to the hive mind at Wikipedia, referred to the gravest of crimes in Greek society and included "sexual crimes ranging from rape of women or children to consensual but improper activity, in particular anal sex with a free man or with an unconsenting and/or under-aged boy."

A bespoke term could not have been better crafted than "hubris" in its multiplicity of meanings to describe the rise and fall of Joe Paterno.

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