7/13/17 Euripedes Still Speaks

euripedesProsperity is full of friends

Euripedes, the Greek tragedian playwright still speaks to us across the ages. He lived in Athens, around 400 BC, or, shall we say, 2,400 years ago. More of his plays have survived than any other Greek playwright. In excess of 90 or so are thought by scholars to be his, with a few exceeding 90 whose authorship is questionable.

He wrote tragedies that thrust god-like beings into ordinary mortal circumstances, teaching men to cope with their mortality and limitations while simultaneously entertaining them. The comedic writers made fun or Euripedes, but then the comedic writers make fun of everything, even the sacred. Euripedes apparently thought they were a waste of time and a corrupting influence. Apparently, like Socrates, the authorities of his day thought Euripedes himself was a corrupting influence. Unlike Socrates, who was executed by being forced to drink poison, Euripedes lived in exile in Macedonia in his final years, though his actual reasons for choosing Macedonia are somewhat in dispute these days, as apparently the King of Macedonia at the time offered lots of artists a retirement home, which, Euripedes no doubt thought was better than the cave he lived in for many years

From his plays come many wise sayings, worth remembering, worth embracing.

Prosperity is full of friends” is just one of them.

And indeed, prosperity is full of friends. It’s easy to have friends when you reward them for their friendship. The man who buys the beer finds many who are thirsty. If one looks around at the remaining friends one has when it costs them something to be our friend, then one has found true friends, and as Euripedes said, “One loyal friend is worth ten thousand relatives.” Loyal friends are hard to come by. We must be one to have one, though the aren’t easily identified in good times.

In dire circumstances, one looks around and perhaps finds no friends at all. This is the most lonely of all places. In some, this abandonment by those who were thought to be friends leads to despair. In others it unleashes a powerful determination. Euripedes also said, “Nothing has more strength than dire necessity.” Back a man into a corner and he will either surrender or become extremely dangerous. Put a man in peril, and don’t be surprised if the outcome is not what you expected.

Some face dire circumstances every day, and they do so with strength, grace, and a forbearance which is admirable. This sometimes leads one to think of karma, which I hear used frequently, particularly by those who hope for revenge. It is a fool’s errand. There are many whose dire circumstance are thrust upon them when karma should have dealt them a much better hand, yet they play on, courageously, with the hand they have. I admire this.

Karma is not trustworthy, because what we call karma is arbitrary. Sometimes, the idea of karma turns us into friends of the prosperous, which is no friend at all.

No doubt Euripedes was familiar with the concept of karma, for the adage “One shall reap what one has sown” is older than Euripedes. But many times, the good seeds we have sown grow up among the thorns and briars, being choked into extinction by those circumstances over which we have no knowledge or control. The locust eats, yet it sows nothing. When the locust eats up my faithfully tended garden, is it karma, or mere chance and circumstance?

The envious, the indifferent, and the friend in prosperity may say, “Karma,” as they disappear into the distance, seeing the stripped plants and the rotten tomatoes on the ground, the locusts fat and happy, singing their songs, their whirring in the distance like the morning birds that got the worm. The true friend brings over some of his own tomatoes to share, thinking that the locusts could just have easily visited his garden than the one thus consumed.

Sometimes we make the bed we have to sleep in. Sometimes the bed is dragged from underneath us for no reason at all. When holding that hand, a good poker face is a good ally.

Some are just lucky. And as Euripedes said, “The lucky person passes for a genius.”

Others have said that is is better to be lucky than good. Euripedes said that in his own way. The ones who are not so lucky, those born into desperation in distant places, unknown to us, unseen by us, touched by calamities thrust upon them that are beyond their control . . . my hope for them is strength in dire circumstances, as they have not enough prosperity to allow for many friends.

My hope for me, and you?

May we ever have the strength to be that friend in dire circumstances, and may we look about us to see a friend when prosperity has failed us.

©2017 Mississippi Chris Sharp

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