Thursday, October 22, 2009

Helen of Troy - a new perspective

I started reading Margaret George's 'Helen of Troy'. This is a different version of history - Helen of Troy is told as a first person account of Helen herself.
When I first read an abridged version of Homer's 'The Iliad' and later watched the movie, 'Troy', I was full of admiration for the Greek heroes - Achilles, Odysseus and even Menelaus, to some extent.
I never really cared about Helen and Paris - impulsive lovers who had eloped. Helen was just a beautiful face in the whole story who was coveted by many and the one who had the power to have armies fighting for her return to Sparta.
But, now after reading this beautiful, touching story, I learnt certain things: Helen was a princess of Sparta and could inherit the queenship if a man who did not have a kingdom of his own, were to wed her. That is how Menelaus became king of Sparta - by marrying Helen. Hence, it was a kind of a matriarchical system.
I also learnt that they had a daughter, Hermione (I liked the name Hermione from Harry Potter, now I know its source) and that they were married for ten years before Helen eloped with Paris. Helen was married at a very young age, at fifteeen after an open contest of suitors akin to the ancient Indian practice of swayamvar (where royal brides chose their groom from an assembly of suitors).
But now, it occurred to me - what sort of queen would risk her reputation, the companionship of her family, even the closeness to her own child, not to mention her personal safety for a man, no matter how attractive he was? The story goes that Paris was promised the most beautiful woman in the world as his wife by none other than Aphrodite herself, the goddess of love and beauty in the Greek pantheon. Well, if you are a fatalist, you would believe that destiny or God had a hand in the whole saga. But, Paris and Helen also made a choice to elope. Helen, particularly. Why? Margaret George speaks of the stifling unhappiness in Helen's marriage. Although born a princess with stunning beauty, Helen was far from being truly free and happy. She was like a bird in a golden cage, a cage nevertheless.
We, in the modern era, have much to be thankful for, most importantly, personal liberty. Ultimately, democracy is not just about elections, but about freedom of the individual. Helen, unfortunaletly, did not live in an era where she could file for divorce due to incompatibilty and tell her hubby, "Honey, you are a great guy but we are not right for each other and I'm just just not that into you."
She had few choices - either live a peaceful, unhappy life under a facade or revolt.
She chose the latter, albeit in an impulsive, not-so-well-thought-out manner. Could she have openly decided to walk away, telling her husband the truth? That would have certainly appeared to be more honorable and, perhaps, would have saved Troy and the Greeks many lives, but we will never know.
Helen was, in a way, symbolic of the repression that women faced, quietly sanctioned by society. I do see Helen in a vastly different light and applaud her courage and pity her for her fate. Ironically, even though Helen was a God-fearing woman who loved her family, was not vain and manipulative (according to the novel by Margaret George), she still shook the conventions of the time and proved the adage, "Well-behaved women seldom make history".

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Higher and lower values

People, especially the orthodox, always tend to focus on the rituals - no sex before marriage, no contraception, no divorce, etc. Few focus on the spiritual side of it as to why these ritualistic rules came into place in the first place not to mention the social and economic state of society when ancient religions were born.
This post has been triggered after reading an article on the Root and the subsequent comments about successful unmarried black women. There were some posts, particularly one from a conservative Catholic unmarried one, that really got me thinking.
Most religions see any sex outside of marriage as a sin or at least something inappropriate. Marriage itself, at least in those days, was probably originally devised as a means to create a family, procreate, provide protection and care during old age and act as a foundation for civil society. Polygamy and even polyandry, in some cases, was accepted in many cultures. In some ethnic societies, premarital sex was not frowned upon. In fact, in matriarchal systems, it was not uncommon for women to lead a family and even have children out of wedlock. The idea of family is much broader than what modern society would have us believe.
A child out of wedlock is considered a sin and a shame and, added to that, even when there is no social stigma associated with it, single working women find it hard to cope with an unplanned pregnancy. Therefore, especially in the United States, we have this endless debate about abortion, abstinence and so on.
In modern times, we expect to have romance and passion, economic and emotional sustenance all provided through marriage. Added to that is the additional stress of modern life itself and the possibility of falling in love with other people through increased social interaction between the sexes. Yes, emotional affairs of the heart have a higher probability of occurrence in our age as compared to that of our forefathers simply because women and men were never really permitted to mingle freely or even date for that matter in ancient societies. There was no email, IM, phone or any other means of electronic communication that could be used frequently and sneakily either. Since most women did not work or were too busy raising large families, divorce was probably economically impossible.
The modern individualistic society, despite its flaws, gives each person the potential to fully question his/her motives, aspirations and social conditioning deeply, which brings me to the concept of higher values.
Love for another human being, sharing and caring is the higher value upon which the ritualistic values of marriage and family are based upon. Thus, a family created by people who are not linked by either DNA or a certificate from the priest or the courts, but based upon mutual trust, affection and support, is not any less useful to society than a traditional one.
A couple choosing to go their separate ways because they do not want to lie to each other anymore about the lack of physical attraction, that special spark that brings people together and intimacy or any form of emotional or intellectual incompatibility is not any more at fault than one that chooses to stay together despite a big void in their lives. It is a question of honesty and compassion, the higher values that bind people in relationships.
Concentrating upon the higher values and the plight of our fellow human beings without acting like a martyr, sacrificing personal happiness solely for keeping others in an unruffled emotional state, will probably be the only way to truly find that elusive peace and happiness we all long for.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Back again!

Whew, dear's been a really long time since I wrote anything here.
2008 has been a year of great learning...and some wonderful experiences.
I've seen some fantastic movies and events.
There was the delicate, heartbreaking yet inspiring story of Jane Eyre in 'Becoming Jane', 'Valkyrie' - a true story of immense courage and sacrifice, the surprise winner 'Slumdog Millionaire' and as for the event of the year, there's no question about it, the 2008 Beijing Olympics opening ceremony is permanently scorched in our memory cells.
Among the books that I have read this year are Malcolm Gladwell's 'The Outliers' - simply a must-read, Ian Halperin's 'Bad and Beautiful' - the ugly underbelly (or rather, the ignored elephant-in-the-room at times) of the modeling world and Philippa Gregory's 'The Virgin's Lover' - the love story of Queen Elizabeth I and one of her chief court officers, Robert Dudley.
I have also been digging up information on astrology.
2008 has also been a politically eventful year, what with the elections and the contest between President Obama and Vice-President Biden pitted against Senator McCain and Governor Palin. That was one lively competition and provided fodder for comedians such as Tina Fey (perhaps Sarah Palin's lost sister:)) and Jon Stewart and their likes.
Of course, 2008 also brought with it the woes of Wall Street and the slowing down of the economy and we should be thanking God or our good fortune if we still have our jobs and a home and warm food and clothing.
We've also had a 'snowful' (note: I coined this word!) holiday season. So it's been a memorable year and I hope 2009 will be great with its own unique memories.