August 11, 2011
ONBOARD S/Y BUSHIDO—According to C. M. Bowra, gold had a divine association with the Ancient Greeks and possessed more than a symbolic value. When Pindar wished to stress something’s splendor, he called it golden, whether it was a victor’s wreath of wild olive or a song’s opening. Gold stood for wealth in its most magical and least prosaic form, for the radiance it invested in the art of living and for the graces it made possible. I wonder what Pindar would say about gold if he was around nowadays?
Bowra also writes that according to Xenophanes, a social critic of antiquity, Lydian gold had a harmful effect on Greeks living in Asia Minor, turning the Hellenes into “preys of useless luxuries” and therefore prey to conquest and tyranny. If Xenophanes were around, I wonder what he’d say about rich Arabs and Eurotrash covered in gold. Then again, those who will one day make us their prey—the Chinks—are also covered in gold, just as the Lydians were. Serious Greeks were wary of wealth in general and gold in particular because it might sap the sense of public duty and obligations.
Tell that to the Saudi ruling family and listen to them guffaw for the first time in their grotesque lives. (My, they are a ghastly-looking bunch—fat, ugly, miserable, and cruel.) Modern Saudi, Kuwaiti, and Gulf-state sybarites will eventually bite the dust because of their cruelty and greed, but alas, not in my lifetime. They are too self-indulgent (and much too fat) to sit up straight and read history; otherwise they’d know that Sybaris was a city in southern Italy whose inhabitants had become a byword for luxury. One leading Sybarite visited Sparta and, upon seeing how the great Spartans lived, declared that he’d rather die a cowardly death than live such a life—a redundancy of expression—as Sybarites by nature would die in a cowardly manner.
Sybaris was ultimately put to the sword by Croton, and the only thing left of its inhabitants was the word denoting luxury and lying on one’s arse all day doing nothing. In the future I sincerely hope that the word “sybaritic” will be replaced by “saudian” to denote greed and self-indulgence.