The classic hero story: Theseus

The story of Theseus and the Minotaur (above) is, in my opinion, the classical storyline, the archetypal Ur-Story. I much prefer it to the story of Hercules as I described it recently. It has:

  • unity
  • direction and momentum, propelling us forward
  • complexity, with characters male and female being fleshed out in a way that lets us empathize
  • relevance, collectively and individually, to our own life stories.

It is, in short, far superior to the myth of Hercules as a story.

Part I: Identity

As I interpret the story, it has distinct parts, which we see re-used, like Lego blocks, in our stories today. (If any of the parts remind you of stories, let us know in the comments.)

First, there is the boy who needs to find a) his identity and b) his calling.

Theseus grows up with his mother at the court of Troezen, where his maternal grandfather is king. But he does not know who his father is (ie, he does not yet know his identity).

This he discovers when he lifts a huge boulder and finds under it a sword. The sword was hidden there for him by his father, who is, as Theseus’ mother now reveals, the King of Athens, Aegeus (as in: Aegean Sea). In fact, there will always be some uncertainty about even that, since Theseus mother was visited by both Aegeus and the god Poseidon on the night of Theseus’ conception.

Theseus now sets out to find his father (= his identity, in my reading), which is of course a difficult path. A bit as Hercules had to complete his twelve labors, Theseus has to overcome and kill a series of villains who have been making the road to Athens unsafe. Thereby he delivers a public good. I won’t dwell on each adventure, except one: I’ve already told you about Procrustes, who either stretched or amputated his guests so that they fit into his special bed. Well, Theseus forces him into his own bed, with deadly effect.

Having prevailed (and thus established himself as a promising hero), Theseus arrives in Athens, where nobody yet knows who he is. Only Medea (who will also feature in another hero story, Jason’s), who is the king’s wife, intuits that he is Aegeus’ natural and rightful heir, and thus a threat to her own son. Using her feminine weaponry–guile–she persuades Aegeus that Theseus is dangerous and must be poisoned.

Aegeus reclines at a banquet to see the stranger drink the poisoned wine. But just then Theseus draws his sword, the same sword that Aegeus had hidden long ago for his heir to find, to cut a slab of meat. It is a recognition scene: Aegeus knocks away the poisoned cup and they re-unite. Medea, knowing her game is up, flees.

Part II: Quest

The stage is now set for Theseus, having found his identity, to go on a quest, on the one big task that will define him (in contrast to Hercules, who had twelve tasks but none that was definitive). It so happens that Athens is suffering. Every nine years, the Athenians, having lost a war with Crete, have to send seven maidens and seven boys to Crete as human sacrifice for a monster, half man and half bull, the Minotaur. The Minotaur lives in a labyrinth built be the greatest architect of Greece, Daedalus, and nobody who enters finds his way out again.

Theseus volunteers to be one of the seven youths on the next ship, heeding his “call to action” in the language of the mono-myth theory. The ship sets off with a black sail, and Theseus tells his father that, if he succeeds in slaying the monster and survives, he will return with a white sail.

And how different he is from Hercules even now, as he approaches his biggest task. Hercules occasionally had helpers in his labors, but they were mere stage props in the background. Theseus, on the other hand, is capable of love. He meets Ariadne, the daughter of King Minos of Crete, and they fall for each other.

Without this woman and her love, Theseus would fail. He is vulnerable. He needs an other, a woman, to complete him. And so Ariadne gives him her clew, telling Theseus to unravel its thread as he descends into the labyrinth in order to be able to follow it back out if he should survive his encounter with the Minotaur.

Theseus descends, finds the Minotaur and a ferocious fight ensues. This is his best moment (depicted above), his great act of heroism. He kills the Minotaur, follows Ariadne’s thread back out, and is ready to return home with the news that Athens has been liberated.

Part III: Return

But returns are never easy. Theseus elopes with Ariadne and they sail for Athens. But Theseus, now that the danger is past, falls out of love with her. She has done so much for him, and they have been so close. But now he abandons her on an island (where, in some versions, she will become the wife of Dionysus).

Did the Greeks think he was right to do so? Did they think he was bad? This is beside the point. Theseus, unlike Hercules, is complex. He is human. He gets confused, distracted, unsure.  We can see ourselves in him. He makes mistakes.

He makes a big one, in fact. He promised his father to set a white sail if he succeeded in slaying the Minotaur but evidently forgets and appears on the horizon before Athens with the black sail. Aegeus sees it, assumes that his son has failed and died, and throws himself off a cliff to his death.

But this tragedy marks another rite of passage. Theseus is the heir to the throne, so, having liberated Athens, he now becomes its king.

The story as model

At some later point, we’ll have to take stock of how Theseus (and all subsequent heroes in this thread on Heroes) fits into our debate about heroism. But for now, let’s just think of his story as such: as a story.

It’s all there. A search (for identity), a recognition and reunion (with Aegeus), evil (the Minotaur), a quest and a journey, love and dependency (Ariadne), a peak moment (the slaying), a return, betrayal, tragedy, destiny.

Are these not the parts out of which we build all our stories?

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Brute and primal hero: Hercules

Heracles, or more commonly Hercules (the Roman version), is the quintessential and archetypal hero, the one the Greeks considered their greatest and, more importantly, the one my four-year-old daughter names when I ask her who her favorite hero is.

So Hercules must, of necessity, open this thread on heroes and any investigation of heroism.

Which is interesting because I put it to you that the myth of Hercules is one of the worst stories of antiquity when you consider the storytelling per se. We today would consider Hercules a brute, a meathead, a boor. He is one-dimensional as opposed to complex. His story is in essence a repetitive list of triumphs that leaves no room for suspense, surprise or sympathy. (I meant empathy, really, but why not alliterate?).

And yet, Hercules is the one my daughter picks. So there must be something primal there. And that’s what this post wants to establish.

The man and his dilemma

Hera (Juno)

Hercules was, like many other Greco-Roman heroes, half god, half human. His father was Zeus, which meant that Hera, Zeus’s sister and wife, was jealous and would forever hate Hercules (some say that she is the Hera in Hera-cles) and make his life difficult. If there is tension in the story at all, it is this fight among the gods (some goddesses, such as Athena, helped Hercules) and between a goddess and a mortal. We’ll encounter this theme all throughout ancient mythology (Hera also fought against Aeneas, for instance).

Hera is thus how the Greeks, in this story, personified adversity and even what we would call our dark side. If things go wrong, even if Hercules himself does wrong, we will blame Hera. She is the Ur-bitch, you might say.

Just so this is clear, the story starts when Hera sends two venomous snakes into the crib of baby Hercules to kill him off. Poor snakes. Baby Hercules strangles them, one in each cute fist.

And thus you have the only other piece of information you need about Hercules, the thing that he is known for, the only thing we can really say about him: He is …. strong.

Strength is probably the first trait of a hero, as Jens has already pointed out. But strength against or for what?

Combine the malign influence of Hera and this awe-inspiring strength and you get a combustible cocktail.

Indeed, we need an explosion to get started: Hera causes Hercules to go temporarily mad. He rages with blood lust, destroying and killing not just anybody but … his own children! (Ask yourself: Could Hercules be a modern hero? Do heroes have to be “good”?)

This sets up a rather complicated and unconvincing double rationale for what must come next–ie, the ostensible “story”. Hercules has sinned and must atone, by doing certain labors of penance.

But penance did not work for the Greeks as a story line, so there is another, simpler layer: a good old power struggle. Hercules was supposed to have been a prince, but Hera (who else?) had played with Zeus’ mind and given the throne to Hercules’ cousin Eurystheus, a caricature of mediocrity. The deal is that Hercules can get his throne back if he completes the tasks that Eurystheus gives him. (Ask yourself how plausible that is. Why wouldn’t Hercules just bash his cousin’s head in?)

I’ve been dwelling on all this only to show you what a “bad” story this is. It should be entirely clear by now that the ancients were not the least bit interested in the why of Hercules’ labors, and arguably only modestly interested in the how. They were interested in the that. Namely, Hercules accomplished twelve amazing feats because … he could.

The labors

I won’t, as it were, belabor the labors, even though they are the myth, because you know them and, frankly, I consider them rather predictable and thus dull. (Compare any one of them to the fiendish complexity and uncertainty of, say, Jason having to get that fleece.) To jog your memory, here is the list:

  1. Hercules kills a monstrous lion and henceforth wears its skull and fur as hat and cape, which is how we picture him.
  2. He kills the Hydra, a monster with many heads. Every time he cuts off a head, two more grow in its place. (Compare this with the monster that Siegfried confronts in Norse myth).
  3. He captures a golden-horned deer that is the favorite of the goddess Artemis. (I think this task was included to show that Hercules also had Fingerspitzengefühl, finesse. He could not kill the doe, lest he piss off yet another goddess, so he aimed an arrow so carefully that it immobilized the doe without killing her. But ask yourself: Why did he have to use an arrow at all?)
  4. Next: a boar. Hercules runs it down in the snow, where the boar can’t run fast.
  5. He cleans the famous Augean stables. The cattle of King Augeas had been pooping uninterrupted for eternity and the entire Peloponnesus was reeking. Instead of shoveling shit, Hercules diverts two rivers to flush out the mess. (An import from the river cultures in Mesopotamia and Egypt? Meant to show that Hercules could not be humiliated?)
  6. Next, Hercules kills some terrifying birds who shot brass feathers into people.
  7. Next, Hercules carries the Cretan bull to the mainland. (This is the bull that would father, with King Minos’ wife, the Minotaur that Theseus will later deal with, which theoretically locates Hercules in time as slightly older than Theseus. Probably included to establish a link between the two heroes, the greatest, respectively, of the Peloponnesians and the Athenians. Updated and corrected thanks to Bill Frank.)
  8. Next, Hercules deals with the mares of Diomedes, horses that tear apart and devour any guest of their king. Hercules somehow turns the tables and feeds Diomedes himself to his mares, and they lose their appetite.
  9. Next, the belt of Hippolyte, queen of the Amazons. We need some sex in the story and this is it. Hippolyte falls in love with Hercules and wants to give him her belt, but Hera interferes again, making the other Amazons think that Hercules is about to kill their queen, and causing a battle in which Hercules and his men kill the Amazons. (Every time he kills children or women, you see, it’s really Hera’s fault.)
  10. Next, Hercules has to steal some cattle from a three-headed monster named Geryon. What’s interesting here is the location: Geryon is in Spain, and Hercules travels back to Greece via Italy (thus allowing the Romans to link him with their locales). Also, he has to cross the Alps along the way, and this was, in the Roman mind, not done again “at scale” until … Hannibal did it. I digress.
  11. Next, Hercules has to get the apples of the Hesperides, in today’s Morocco. He persuades Atlas, a Titan who is holding up the sky on his shoulders, to fetch the Apples for him, holding the sky (strength!) while Atlas obliges. When Atlas returns, he doesn’t want to take the burden of the sky back. Hercules says “Fine, I’ll keep carrying it, just take it for one second so that I can put a pillow on my shoulders.” As Atlas helps him out, Hercules makes off with the apples. (I think this is included to show that Hercules also had wit, besides strength. But that qualifies?)
  12. Last, Hercules must fetch Cerberus, the three-headed dog who guards the underworld of the dead. This is de rigueur for heroes: Odysseus and Aeneas will also visit Hades and return. I think it is meant to symbolize a brush with death, a transcendence of mortality.

Death and meaning

And that’s it, a smooth ride from one triumph to the next. If there is a twist, it is only in Hercules’ death.

Hercules and his wife crossed a river once and Hercules let a centaur, half man and half horse, carry his wife across (why did Hercules himself not carry her?). The centaur tried to elope with her, so Hercules shot him. As the centaur lay dying, the beast whispered to Hercules’ wife that she should keep his blood and soak Hercules’ clothes in it, which would prevent him from straying with other women. She did as told, but the blood was really venom. And thus she inadvertently killed her husband.

And yet, Hercules, alone among heroes, did not totally die. Zeus, his father, made him immortal and brought him to Mount Olymp. Another indication that Hercules was special.

So what is Hercules to us?

He represents the idea, once universal and now arguably fading, that heroes are somehow beyond morality and the law, beyond ordinary standards, “beyond good and evil”. That happens to be the title of a book  by Nietzsche, and I think Hercules might have fit Nietzsche’s idea of an Übermensch. It is what Dostoyevsky examined in Crime and Punishment: Can the hero be beyond morality? The ancients believed Yes. We have opted for No. Today, we would lock Hercules up or, if he happened to be president, appoint a special prosecutor.

But back to the point: Hercules may have got rid of some nuisances for his fellow men–a boar here, a monster there–but that was not why he did his labors.

Hercules was simply a strong man at a time when nature was ever-threatening and as arbitrary as a jealous woman (Hera), when our frightened ancestors yearned for one among them, whatever else his flaws, to stand by at the gate with a bludgeon and brawn.

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Writing in a Procrustean bed

That stud on the vase is supposed to be Theseus, the Athenian hero who went on to slay the Minotaur, dealing with a ruffian named Procrustes.

Procrustes was famous for his bed. He invited passers-by to spend the night and to lie* in his bed. The bed was always too short or too long. So Procrustes “adjusted”, not the bed, but the guest as he was sleeping. He either stretched the guest (Procrustes = ‘the stretcher’) or cut off his legs.

Theseus eventually dealt with Procrustes by making him, Procrustes, fit his own bed. So there.

But from this myth we have the great term Procrustean bed. It applies whenever we force something into a size or a result (as with statistics) that is not natural and thus incorrect or inelegant.

I was thinking of the Procrustean bed once again while writing my piece for The Economist this week.

You recall my musings on the subject of a text’s optimal length, and how important it is neither to go under or over it. Well, in most print media, and certainly in The Economist, lengths are fixed in advance. What determines wordcount is the line count in the page layout of the print edition, which is done before the editor even has the “copy” (article) in question.

In my 12 years at The Economist I have, as you might expect, become very good at writing ‘to length’–ie, at delivering copy that fits exactly (thus evading any Procrustean tendencies by editors). Often I even enjoy the discipline of that constraint.

But it increasingly strikes me as bizarre, indeed unsustainable: We invariably cut good stuff out of articles, add unnecessary words to ‘turn lines’, or even entire paragraphs to fill a page when a chart shrinks. Sometimes this means sacrificing color and detail, or even logical connectors. Other times it means adding noise to signal.

And what happens next? People read the print edition, then pulp it. So much for the beautiful page layout.

But the same text survives forever online, where it faces no obvious layout constraints. Thus, all posterity reads a suboptimal text, stretched or amputated as Procrustes’ guests were.

The ancients (Homer, Virgil, etc) did not have this problem. They (or rather, their slaves) wrote on scrolls, which scroll as our web pages do, into infinity if necessary. Perhaps our evolving media habits will take us back to that future.

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Mythos and logos: Armstrong v Dawkins

Richard Dawkins

Richard Dawkins

Karen Armstrong

Karen Armstrong

I admire people like Albert Einstein and Carl Jung (both characters in my book) who were able to feel awe. They retained their ability to be amazed by the world, and derived out of that amazement what Abraham Maslow called “peak experiences.”

I also admire people like Richard Dawkins (and of course Charles Darwin) who are able to use the precision-scalpels of their minds for clear thinking and shocking insight. Eg: Evolution. Eg: No God.

Like Einstein, I don’t really see combat between the one attitude and the other, between the left brain and the right, the yang and the yin. I especially like what happens when the two are well connected.

So I very much enjoyed this little contest in the Wall Street Journal (thank you Cheri) between Karen Amstrong, a religious scholar I have a lot of time for, and Richard Dawkins, the world’s most famous atheist. They were both asked: “Where does evolution leave God?”

Dawkins, true to take-no-prisoners form, answered:

The kindest thing to say is that it leaves him with nothing to do, and no achievements that might attract our praise, our worship or our fear. Evolution is God’s redundancy notice, his pink slip.

Armstrong responded brilliantly too, by avoiding the embarrassing efforts of certain people to deny the evidence of evolution and instead going a level deeper, into topics dear to The Hannibal Blog: story telling, mythology, and archetypes:

First Armstrong concedes that

Richard Dawkins has been right all along, of course—at least in one important respect. Evolution has indeed dealt a blow to the idea of a benign creator, literally conceived…. No wonder so many fundamentalist Christians find their faith shaken to the core.

But then she expands the topic:

Most cultures believed that there were two recognized ways of arriving at truth. The Greeks called them mythos and logos. Both were essential and neither was superior to the other; they were not in conflict but complementary, each with its own sphere of competence. Logos (“reason”) was the pragmatic mode of thought that enabled us to function effectively in the world and had, therefore, to correspond accurately to external reality. But it could not assuage human grief or find ultimate meaning in life’s struggle. For that people turned to mythos, stories that made no pretensions to historical accuracy but should rather be seen as an early form of psychology; if translated into ritual or ethical action, a good myth showed you how to cope with mortality, discover an inner source of strength, and endure pain and sorrow with serenity…

(Note 1: Logos is one of those Greek words that can be translated in several different ways. Viktor Frankl, as you recall, translated it as meaning, and named his approach logotherapy after it.)

(Note 2: The complementarity of mythos and logos is the stylistic assumption behind the book I am writing. It is non-fiction (logos) but–or so I hope, and so the editor believes–reads like myth. That’s because I feel that ideas, even logical ones, require stories for their telling.)

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Good & bad conversations: Recognize Eris


I ended the previous post, the first in this series on Socrates, by suggesting that we “count all the other ways in which Socrates, like Hannibal, is relevant to us, today.” So let’s start with perhaps the most important (if not the most famous) insight that Socrates gave us: the incredible importance of knowing good from bad conversations. And for that, I need to introduce you to that strange lady above, whose named is Eris.

We spend much of our lives, and indeed many of our happiest moments, conversing with others. I love that word, which means turning toward each other. Good conversations make us human and whole, make us feel connected to others and bring us closer to the truth of something (or at least further from a fallacy).

Unfortunately, we also spend at least as much time in bad conversations. You know them:

  • bickering between husbands and wives
  • political “debates” on Fox, or indeed almost anywhere else.
  • Cross-examinations in courtrooms,
  • and on and on and on

Those “conversations”, which are really a turning away from one another, do the opposite of what good conversations do: They leave us depleted, down, disconnected, alienated, sleazy, yucky.

What is the difference between the good and the bad conversations? Socrates told us, by giving us two new words:

  • dialectic (=good), and
  • eristic (=bad)

Meet Eris, the Ur-Bitch

So now it’s time for a story. It’s the most famous of the many stories about Eris, whose Roman name was Discordia.

Eris was the goddess of strife. Nobody liked her, so when the future parents of Achilles had their wedding, everybody was invited except Eris. Eris fumed.

She knew what she was good at, and did it: She left a golden apple lying around the wedding party. It said “To the most beautiful”. How cunning, how feminine.

Three extremely beautiful goddesses, Hera, Athena and Aphrodite, immediately started bickering about who had rights to the apple. It was decided to appoint a judge, somebody sufficiently hapless, naive and male to be easily manipulated. They settled on Paris, a prince of Troy.

“Paris,” whispered Athena, “don’t you think I’m the most beautiful? I’m the goddess of wisdom, as you know, and I could be persuaded to make you the wisest man alive.”

“Choose me,” said Hera, “I’m the wife of Zeus and can make you the most powerful man in the whole world.”

“Oh, Paris,” cooed Aphrodite with a tiny bat of her languorous eyelids. “You know who I am, don’t you? We all know that the apple is mine. Say so, and I will give you the most beautiful woman in the world.”

Paris, with the priorities of the average teenager, chose Aphrodite. Athena and Hera were fuming. Hatred descended on the wedding party. And everybody knew that Paris was now to get Helen, the most beautiful of the mortal women.

The only problem: Helen was already married, to a Spartan who was the brother of the great king Agamemnon. Agamemnon and his Greeks would have to come after Paris and his Trojans to get Helen back. Ten years of bloody war followed. Eris had outdone herself.

Eristic conversation

So Socrates chooses to call bad conversations eristic. They are full of strife, because–and this is the key–they are conversations in which each side wants above all to win. Where there is a winner, there is usually a loser, so these conversations separate us.

The opposite was dialectic, whence our word dialogue, the Greek form of the Latin conversation (ie, turning toward). When you turn toward another, you are not trying to win, you are trying to find the truth. That is your motivation, and it is one you share with your conversation partner (as opposed to opponent). Everybody wins, as long as you climb higher through your conversing, toward more understanding or more communion.

We today

I mentioned in the previous post a series of serendipitous events recently. The first was an email from Cheri Block Sabraw, a writing teacher and reader of The Hannibal Blog, that pointed me to this essay, “Notes on Dialogue”, by a great intellect named Stringfellow Barr.

Written in 1968, it might as well have been penned today, as Barr describes eristic and dialectic conversation in our own world:

There is a pathos in television dialogue: the rapid exchange of monologues that fail to find the issue, like ships passing in the night; the reiterated preface, “I think that . . .,” as if it mattered who held which opinion rather than which opinion is worth holding; the impressive personal vanity that prevents each “discussant” from really listening to another speaker and that compels him to use this God-given pause to compose his own next monologue…

Expressing the Socratic ideal, Barr says that

We yearn, not always consciously, to commune with other persons, to learn with them by joint search,

and that

the most relevant sort of dialogue, though perhaps the most difficult, for twentieth century men to achieve and especially for Americans to achieve is the Socratic….

What makes good (Socratic) conversations good? They have a completely different dynamic than bad conversations. They tend to be

  • poor in long-winded declarations and rich in short, pithy back-and-forth,
  • egalitarian in that it does not matter who says what but what is said (even though this does not mean “equal time” for any nonsense)
  • spontaneous, in that they follow wherever the argument leads, even and especially to surprising destinations,
  • playful, and indeed humorous, for that is what makes “serious” investigation possible and sublime.

In short, this sort of conversation is what The Hannibal Blog is about, with the amazing input by all of you in the comments that make each topic come alive. If The Hannibal Blog is against anything, it is Eris and her spawn.

And so I leave you with just one famous instance when two fakers were called to account and told  just what sort of “conversation” they dealt in:

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The violence of myth, the myth of violence

I am thinking about Cheri’s question: If children accept as natural the violence in the Greek myths and other old stories (Bible!), why do we adults reject it?

Part of the answer, I think, is in Steven Pinker’s talk, below. (It doesn’t show up in RSS readers.) It has to do with the stunning drop in violence in our human history. The ancients had violence all around them, so it entered their stories naturally. Even our great-grandparents still saw a lot more violence than we do, so they accepted it in their stories naturally. And we, as Pinker says, now have standards that have run ahead of actual behavior, so when we are being all grown-up and modern, we can’t deal with it anymore.

But the child within us ‘remembers’ the world of raw experience, before these standards. And, as Cheri has said, different people are childish to different degrees. The ‘child’ in my own personality is rather outsized, so perhaps that is why I connect to the old stories rather easily. (Emphatically not, however, to the vulgar and gratuitous violence in Hollywood).

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Greek myths for 4-year-olds


My daughter parks her head in my arm pit, gets under her covers and is ready. In German, I begin:

So Zeus told Prometheus to re-people the earth with human beings, because all the mortals had died in the big war that he, Zeus, had fought and won against the Titans. So Prometheus made people out of clay. But they were cold and dumb. So he asked Zeus for some fire from Mount Olympus.

‘Sorry, that’s just for gods,’ said Zeus.

‘Ok, sorry,’ said Prometheus. Then he stole the fire when Zeus wasn’t looking and gave it to the new human beings, who suddenly warmed up, started cooking, started thinking and building huts and tools.

Zeus noticed and got angry.

So the humans started sacrificing their animals to the gods to appease them. But Prometheus, who was on the humans’ side and saw how hungry they were, said ‘Hey, do it this way: Put the bones and crap on one side and wrap it in fat. Put the meat on the other side and throw some fur on it so that it looks like leftovers. Then let the gods choose one of the two piles.’

The gods chose, and gods can be dumb, so they chose the bones wrapped in fat, and for once the humans had enough to eat.

But Zeus again noticed and now got really, really mad. He had Prometheus chained to a rock where an eagle ate his liver which then grew back at night so that the eagle could rip it out again the next day, and the next and the next. Wonderful.

How a 4-year-old hears this

Too gruesome for a 4-year old? Oh, no.

My daughter loves the Greek myths and insists on a few every night as part of her bedtime ritual. And not only does she get these stories at some simple, deep, archetypal level, she extracts very interesting and quite sophisticated insights about life. Such as:

4-year old: But Prometheus only meant well. He did something good. Didn’t the gods know that?

Dad: Oh yes, they knew that. But they were still angry, because they were vain.

4-year old: Gods can do whatever they like.

Dad: That’s right. And they’re a silly as people, and that’s how the Greeks explained all the stuff that happens in the world.

She got it. And I felt great. A few days ago, I talked to a child psychologist about this, and she said that children connect to myths and folk tales such as Hansel and Gretel so well precisely because those stories are archetypal, even and especially when they strike us as gruesome. We don’t give kids enough credit. It’s a mistake to tell them only sweet nonsense that amounts to a lie about life and eventually bores them. All within reason, of course. The child shows the way.

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