Paul Andersen: It’s Bush versus the Hydra
Last week, the bright lights of the GrassRoots TV studio bathed us in soft orange hues as we clipped microphones to our lapels in
preparation for a talk show. As the cameramen focused their zoom lenses on our nose hairs, we amateurs were gripped by stage fright.
Fellow panelist Fred Venrick shuffled his papers in parody of a newscaster while Cathy O’Connell suggested a pact to destroy the tape should our discussion become a disaster. Our host, Carol Bayley, calmed our jitters, and as the cameras rolled, we put on our best professorial manners and made like sages.
The show is called “Speak Volumes,” a book discussion that airs on GrassRoots TV and gives viewers a half-hour glimpse of current book titles. Our topic, “The Songs of the Kings,” by Barry Unsworth, is a modern parable that lampoons Greek mythology.
“The Songs of the Kings” depicts the Greek army under Agamemnon pinned down at a barren port by an ill wind. This unceasing gale keeps the army from setting sail and attacking Troy, where the Greeks purportedly hope to avenge the abduction/seduction of Helen. Their nobility is false, however, for they really hunger for personal enrichment and greed.
The intrigues of the Greeks during this forced hiatus include struggles for power and religious supremacy, and the masking of truth for expediency. Judging by Unsworth’s characterizations, little has changed in 2,500 years of human history.
Unsworth artfully unmasks the Greek heroes as conspirators, buffoons, deceivers, brutes, murderers and rapists. Odysseus, whose 10-year sabbatical was documented in Homer’s “The Odyssey,” is characterized as a conniver who places conquest and riches above all else. His is the mythic ego that comes down through the ages as a paradigm for success and power.
The title furnishes a central theme depicting the songs of the kings as propaganda for the status quo. The singer, who strums his lyre and invents myths from current events, is the Greek version of today’s corporate media.
In Unsworth’s fiction, the singer is swayed in his songs by threats and bribes. Today’s singers are under the same influences; they’re given access and air-time only if they sing in tune with their sponsors.
The message of today’s singers is the mythology sung by the Bush administration in the war against terrorism. Today’s singers are the embedded journalists and network talking heads who produce spin for the power elite.
The Greek conquest of Troy appears, through Unsworth, as a direct parallel to present-day American hegemony in the Middle East. As I pondered the parallels, another myth came to mind: the battle between Hercules and the Hydra.
The Hydra was a horrific beast with many heads. Hercules took up his sword and lopped off the Hydra’s heads, but to the dismay of the Greek super hero, the Hydra sprouted two heads for each one severed. These Hercules also chopped off, but the Hydra promptly sprouted a new array.
Bush’s war on terrorism is like fighting the Hydra. Cut off a head ” like Afghanistan or Iraq ” and others sprout. Take out Saddam, and hundreds fill the void. Take out bin Laden and thousands will rise. The Hydra lives today in terrorist cells spreading around the world.
According to the Greek myth, Hercules was eventually swallowed up, consumed, by the Hydra. Being half god, Hercules made his escape by slashing his way out of the Hydra’s belly.
Bush, however, is no demigod. Rather than slashing his way out of a Hydra that is sprouting heads faster than anyone can count, Bush and the faltering U.S.-led coalition may emerge ignominiously from the other end.
[Paul Andersen thinks that one day soon the singer will change his tune. His column appears on Mondays]
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