Negative Vs. Positive In Ancient Greek Life

In ancient Greece there was a belief that an equal, but justified, negative event offset every positive event. Likewise, a positive experience justified every negative escapade. This Greek belief is apparent in the epic Iliad by Homer in the scenes that Hephaistos fashions onto Achilleus’ new battle shield. The scenes painted on Achilleus’ new shield reflect to the reader the belief that the Greeks had in balance in their lives.

In one such spectacle Hephaistos depicts a Greek wedding tradition. Men are leading their wives along the city from their maiden chambers, under flaring torches, as the bride song is played loudly. The people were assembled in a marketplace as a fight has broken out between two men over the blood price for a man who had been killed. The tone of this scene starts off very wondrous and happy. As in Greek tradition an event takes place that doesn’t, in this situation, necessarily have a negative effect on the scene but is more of an annoyance to the couples. This fight is an example of how a negative event offsets an enjoyable occasion. In another scene Hephaistos depicts the field of a King whose villagers are harvesting his field in an annual event. Hephaistos describes how the reapers reap the wheat and the sheaf-binders follow to bundle the crop together. As this is happening, the village women are gathering barley for the men to eat as they work. Away from the field, a slaughtered ox is being prepared for all to enjoy. The king stands by watching happily as his people come together for this annual affair. As the workers continue their harvest, herdsmen are taking their cattle out to graze in a field. As the herdsman move the cattle onward, two dire lions grab hold of a bull and begin to kill and eat it. The herdsmen try to set their dogs on the lions but they are unsuccessful. The dogs take a close stand but cannot scare off the fearless lions. This is a great example of the equilibrium in life which Greeks believed in. A village of people are harvesting their annual crop as the King watches on happily. Then out of nowhere, lions show up to capture and eat a village bull. There is no foreshadowing given to the reader to hint to the events coming forth. The occurrences happen sporadically and are quite random, leaving the reader wondering why such details would be included in the painting of Achilleus’ shield. The reason is simple. In Greek culture, positive and negative went hand in hand.

The way the Greeks looked at life, with respect to their reasoning for good and bad events, is very commodious. An ancient Greek man would not walk out of his house, see the sun shining bright and say, “What beautiful weather! Today will be an excellent day.” The Greeks had a solid grasp of life and knew that as good as life may be it can also become equally worse. Many people today have a misconception that bad events happen once in a while, or that there is a definite reason for why a negative experience has occurred. As result they feel they are having bad “luck” on such occasions. The Greek culture would have nothing to do with luck. They took life as it came and accepted whatever may be their fate. They made no excuses for why something happened to them but rather turned their cheek and moved onward.

Word Count: 581

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