Friday, April 13, 2007

Who is Cassandra?

Cassandra, "she who entangles men" was a daughter of King Priam and Queen Hecuba of Troy whose beauty caused Apollo (who is the Greek god of light, prophesy, poetry, music and healing; the son of Zeus and the twin brother of Artemis, who is the goddess of marriage, chastity, hunting and moonlight.) to grant her the gift of prophecy. However, when she did not return his love, Apollo placed a curse on her so that no one would ever believe her predictions.

Because of our moment in history I think I can predict the future and I will be believed. In order to discern the future, you must learn from the past and the present. To quote George Santayana, the great philosopher, essayist, poet and novelist (1863-1952), "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." And the lessons from history and culture don't have to be sugar-coated for easy consumption. People are interested in what went on and how it relates to what's going on. Just look at the broad appeal of the movie 300.

300 is the story of the battle of Thermopylae. You may well ask, as many did, what and where the hell is Thermopylae? In 480 B.C. Xerxes, the son of the great Persian King Darius, continues his father's master plan to take over the great Hellenic city-states, especially Athens and Sparta. Athens is the birthplace of democracy and a place of great learning and art. Sparta had the best organized and trained army at the time. Athens and Sparta are insulted by Xerxes' request that they surrender. They determine to set up a small force at the Thermopylae passage to block Xerxes. The Thermopylae passage was only 40 feet wide. The great historian Herodotus estimated that Xerxes' army numbered 1,700,000 strong against 7000 Hellenites, including the 300 men of the elite guard of the Spartan King Leonidas. A 3-day battle began with 300 Spartans and 700 Thespians (not actors but support troops) slaying thousands of Persians with minimal losses. The entire Persian campaign would have failed had not Xerxes learned of a secret passage to the flank of the Hellenic army. After a final battle led by King Xerxes himself, the Spartans and the rest of the Hellenic force were completely slain, but their heroism and glory lived on.

The impact of the conflict was enormous. The Persians' morale dropped to zero and the Hellenes lost their fear of the Persian conqueror and organized their defense. After several successful battles the Hellenes ultimately defeated the Persian army and repelled their invasion in the Battle of Plataea in 479 B.C.

That was a long time ago, you might say. What does that have to do with today, with cell phones and plasma TVs and Blackberries and video games? With reality television? Well, you might say that we are the Persians. The United States is the saber-rattling superpower who invaded a sovereign nation (Iraq), some say illegally, which posed no immediate threat. Our army outnumbered the enemy and initially we easily defeated them. Mission accomplished. But they fought back with sticks and rocks and improvised explosive devices and suicide bombers. Now Iraq is a guerrilla training ground. And our actions strengthened our adversary Iran, a country which was originally known, ironically enough, as Persia.

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