The Tea Party and the Myth of Antaeus

Stanley Fish sheds light on contemporary politics by means of his vocation as a classically-educated literary scholar:

And the Democrats will be helping them [Republicans] by saying scathing and dismissive things about the Tea Party and its candidates. The Greek mythological figure Antaeus won victory after victory because his opponents repeatedly threw him to the ground, not realizing that it was the earth (in the figure of his mother, Gaia) that nourished him and gave him renewed strength. The Tea Party’s strength comes from the down-to-earth rhetoric it responds to and proclaims, and whenever high-brow critics heap the dirt of scorn and derision upon the party, its powers increase. . . .

What to do? It is easier, of course, to say what not to do, and what not to do is what Democrats and their allies are prone to do — poke gleeful fun at the lesser mortals who say and believe strange things and betray an ignorance of history.

That won’t work. Better, perhaps, to take a cue from Hercules, who figured out the source of Antaeus’s strength and defeated him by embracing him in a bear hug, lifting him up high, and preventing him from touching the ground. Don’t sling mud down in the dust where your opponents thrive. Instead, engage them as if you thought that the concerns they express (if not their forms of expression) are worthy of serious consideration, as indeed they are. Lift them up to the level of reasons and evidence and see how they fare in the rarified air of rational debate where they just might suffer the fate of Antaeus.

via Antaeus and the Tea Party – NYTimes.com.

Does anybody know any other myths or legends that might have applications to our times?

HT:Joseph Bottum

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • Porcell

    Sad to say, the myth of Sisyphus who was punished by the gods for his assorted evils by endlessly attempting to roll a rock up hill, only to have it roll back. The liberals are similarly punished by ubiquitously rolling their utopian government rock up the hill only to see it defeated by their own overzealous power and lack of restraint.

    Either that, or we evil conservatives are punished for our iniquity by attempting to roll the rock of small government up what seems to be an impossible hill. C’est la vie.

  • Porcell

    Sad to say, the myth of Sisyphus who was punished by the gods for his assorted evils by endlessly attempting to roll a rock up hill, only to have it roll back. The liberals are similarly punished by ubiquitously rolling their utopian government rock up the hill only to see it defeated by their own overzealous power and lack of restraint.

    Either that, or we evil conservatives are punished for our iniquity by attempting to roll the rock of small government up what seems to be an impossible hill. C’est la vie.

  • bunnycatch3r

    Our culture can be likened to the story of Jephthah’s daughter.
    A warrior leader makes a vow to a warrior god in return for victory on the battlefield. The result is a retelling of the Cain and Abel story. Cain severs himself from humanity ( thus becoming a monster) by killing his brother. Jephthah carves out and destroys a completely essential aspect of humanity i.e., the female self, from his culture by sacrificing his daughter (as a burnt offering) to a just and angry male deity. We are assured, however, that the daughter (who is portrayed as being sublimely feminine) died a virgin. What a pity because instead of a continuation of the female principal western culture has become even more literal, objective, cerebral, unfeeling, and abstract. And that just describes orthodox Christianity! You would think that Christ achieved our redemption with a sword instead of by being pierced. Our secular religion (athletics) is just as bad. “No pain no gain!” and so, Jephthah like, we sacrifice our feminine natures to become stronger, harder, faster, more severe~ more masculine. This macho sports ideal is carried into every discipline, occupation, and vocation of our society. However, the text offers an alternative. Instead of the example of Jephthah let us follow his daughter up onto every high hill and under every green tree and learn again how to weep.

  • bunnycatch3r

    Our culture can be likened to the story of Jephthah’s daughter.
    A warrior leader makes a vow to a warrior god in return for victory on the battlefield. The result is a retelling of the Cain and Abel story. Cain severs himself from humanity ( thus becoming a monster) by killing his brother. Jephthah carves out and destroys a completely essential aspect of humanity i.e., the female self, from his culture by sacrificing his daughter (as a burnt offering) to a just and angry male deity. We are assured, however, that the daughter (who is portrayed as being sublimely feminine) died a virgin. What a pity because instead of a continuation of the female principal western culture has become even more literal, objective, cerebral, unfeeling, and abstract. And that just describes orthodox Christianity! You would think that Christ achieved our redemption with a sword instead of by being pierced. Our secular religion (athletics) is just as bad. “No pain no gain!” and so, Jephthah like, we sacrifice our feminine natures to become stronger, harder, faster, more severe~ more masculine. This macho sports ideal is carried into every discipline, occupation, and vocation of our society. However, the text offers an alternative. Instead of the example of Jephthah let us follow his daughter up onto every high hill and under every green tree and learn again how to weep.

  • mark

    To understand this Bible passage, I think you have to understand how houses were constructed in the Middle East. This is set out by Kenneth Bailey in his book Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes: Cultural Studies in the Gospels. Think of the house as being square. There was a platform on which the family ate its meals and slept. In front of the platform was an area for the family’s animals. In the floor of the platform was a trough or manger in which the family place feed for the animals so they kept quiet during the night. In the morning, the family would let the animals out.

    Jephthah made a vow to sacrifice the first animal through the door, expecting that animal to be a sheep or donkey. The first out the door was his daughter. At that point, he should have recognized he had made a foolish vow, repented and gone to the Temple to make the appropriate sacrifice for having made a foolish vow. Instead, he compounded his sin by sacrificing his daughter. Repent.

    God be merciful to me a sinner. Mea culpa. Mea culpa. Mea maxima culpa. Who will save me from this body doomed to death. Thanks be to God for my Lord Jesus Christ.

  • mark

    To understand this Bible passage, I think you have to understand how houses were constructed in the Middle East. This is set out by Kenneth Bailey in his book Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes: Cultural Studies in the Gospels. Think of the house as being square. There was a platform on which the family ate its meals and slept. In front of the platform was an area for the family’s animals. In the floor of the platform was a trough or manger in which the family place feed for the animals so they kept quiet during the night. In the morning, the family would let the animals out.

    Jephthah made a vow to sacrifice the first animal through the door, expecting that animal to be a sheep or donkey. The first out the door was his daughter. At that point, he should have recognized he had made a foolish vow, repented and gone to the Temple to make the appropriate sacrifice for having made a foolish vow. Instead, he compounded his sin by sacrificing his daughter. Repent.

    God be merciful to me a sinner. Mea culpa. Mea culpa. Mea maxima culpa. Who will save me from this body doomed to death. Thanks be to God for my Lord Jesus Christ.

  • http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/Contemporary-English-Version-CEV-Bible/ sg

    “What a pity because instead of a continuation of the female principal western culture has become even more literal, objective, cerebral, unfeeling, and abstract.”

    aka effective and resourceful. This is a description of why we aren’t huddled around muddy creeks digging for bugs to eat while we watch our children starve. Far from being a pity. Personally I like cell phones, airplanes and modern medicine. Thanks, guys.

  • http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/Contemporary-English-Version-CEV-Bible/ sg

    “What a pity because instead of a continuation of the female principal western culture has become even more literal, objective, cerebral, unfeeling, and abstract.”

    aka effective and resourceful. This is a description of why we aren’t huddled around muddy creeks digging for bugs to eat while we watch our children starve. Far from being a pity. Personally I like cell phones, airplanes and modern medicine. Thanks, guys.

  • mark

    Chapter One of Kenneth Bailey’s book Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes: Cultural Studies in the Gospels is available at:

    http://www.ivpress.com/title/exc/2568-1.pdf

  • mark

    Chapter One of Kenneth Bailey’s book Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes: Cultural Studies in the Gospels is available at:

    http://www.ivpress.com/title/exc/2568-1.pdf

  • S Bauer

    I’d say the myth of Narcissus comes closest to describing our culture.

  • S Bauer

    I’d say the myth of Narcissus comes closest to describing our culture.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    So am I to understand that the billionaire Koch brothers are playing the role of Gaia?

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    So am I to understand that the billionaire Koch brothers are playing the role of Gaia?

  • Porcell

    Todd, just how would the Koch brothers be playing, or as you insinuate, not playing, the role of Gaia? Your ambiguity could be revealing. Could it be that Gaia, our earth mother, looks kindly on those who intelligently take advantage of her vast resources?

    Personally, I regard the Koch family as exemplars, though I should be glad to hear your contra arguments. I understand that we ordinary admirers of successful businessmen lack the cache of de rigueur leftists who look down on bourgeois capitalists. Do enlighten us.

  • Porcell

    Todd, just how would the Koch brothers be playing, or as you insinuate, not playing, the role of Gaia? Your ambiguity could be revealing. Could it be that Gaia, our earth mother, looks kindly on those who intelligently take advantage of her vast resources?

    Personally, I regard the Koch family as exemplars, though I should be glad to hear your contra arguments. I understand that we ordinary admirers of successful businessmen lack the cache of de rigueur leftists who look down on bourgeois capitalists. Do enlighten us.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Peter (@9), I think you need to read Veith’s quote again. I’m not trying to be a cipher:

    Antaeus [here representing the Tea Party] won victory after victory because his opponents repeatedly threw him to the ground, not realizing that it was the earth (in the figure of his mother, Gaia) that nourished him and gave him renewed strength.

    I’ll let you work out the rest on your own.

    “Gaia, our earth mother, looks kindly on those who intelligently take advantage of her vast resources.” What are you talking about? “Our earth mother”?!

    “We ordinary admirers of successful businessmen lack the cache of de rigueur leftists who look down on bourgeois capitalists.” Are you responding to something? Seriously, what are you talking about?

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Peter (@9), I think you need to read Veith’s quote again. I’m not trying to be a cipher:

    Antaeus [here representing the Tea Party] won victory after victory because his opponents repeatedly threw him to the ground, not realizing that it was the earth (in the figure of his mother, Gaia) that nourished him and gave him renewed strength.

    I’ll let you work out the rest on your own.

    “Gaia, our earth mother, looks kindly on those who intelligently take advantage of her vast resources.” What are you talking about? “Our earth mother”?!

    “We ordinary admirers of successful businessmen lack the cache of de rigueur leftists who look down on bourgeois capitalists.” Are you responding to something? Seriously, what are you talking about?

  • Porcell

    Todd, the point I’m making is that the Koch brothers are closer to Gaia, the figure of our earth mother sacred to the ancients. Your enigmatic post that brings the “billionaire” Koch brothers into the discussion would be in ancient terms a piece of gnostic sophistry, unless, of course, I’m missing a piece of your airy leftist wisdom that escapes an ordinary mortal.

    Others here have at Veith’s request offered relevant myths for our time. Other than quibbling about the Kochs and Gaia, might we have the benefit of your suggestion?

  • Porcell

    Todd, the point I’m making is that the Koch brothers are closer to Gaia, the figure of our earth mother sacred to the ancients. Your enigmatic post that brings the “billionaire” Koch brothers into the discussion would be in ancient terms a piece of gnostic sophistry, unless, of course, I’m missing a piece of your airy leftist wisdom that escapes an ordinary mortal.

    Others here have at Veith’s request offered relevant myths for our time. Other than quibbling about the Kochs and Gaia, might we have the benefit of your suggestion?

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    “Your enigmatic post that brings the ‘billionaire’ Koch brothers into the discussion would be in ancient terms a piece of gnostic sophistry.” Mm-hmm. σοφός γνώσης? ευχαριστίες.

    “Unless, of course, I’m missing a piece of your airy leftist wisdom that escapes an ordinary mortal.” Ah.

    “Others here have at Veith’s request offered relevant myths for our time.” Well, technically, only you and S Bauer did. You didn’t call out the others.

    But since you asked, in ancient American culture, the story was told of the Fonz, a powerful creature that was human in appearance, but speaks in a curious argot (with an emphasis on the letter A). He had a certain charming power, especially over young ladies, but inwardly, he felt troubled. Though outwardly both ferocious and charismatic, he was inwardly troubled by never having battled his enemy, a shark. He lost all hope in himself until, one day, he confronted that shark, and won, by leaping over it.

    Though there is much nuance to this myth to see it as a simple allegory, yet I see it mainly applying to Obama.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    “Your enigmatic post that brings the ‘billionaire’ Koch brothers into the discussion would be in ancient terms a piece of gnostic sophistry.” Mm-hmm. σοφός γνώσης? ευχαριστίες.

    “Unless, of course, I’m missing a piece of your airy leftist wisdom that escapes an ordinary mortal.” Ah.

    “Others here have at Veith’s request offered relevant myths for our time.” Well, technically, only you and S Bauer did. You didn’t call out the others.

    But since you asked, in ancient American culture, the story was told of the Fonz, a powerful creature that was human in appearance, but speaks in a curious argot (with an emphasis on the letter A). He had a certain charming power, especially over young ladies, but inwardly, he felt troubled. Though outwardly both ferocious and charismatic, he was inwardly troubled by never having battled his enemy, a shark. He lost all hope in himself until, one day, he confronted that shark, and won, by leaping over it.

    Though there is much nuance to this myth to see it as a simple allegory, yet I see it mainly applying to Obama.

  • Porcell

    I see, Obama in the guise of Fonz, is leaping over the shark. Methinks come November he shall find that he has tripped over the beast and fell flat; however, good try.

  • Porcell

    I see, Obama in the guise of Fonz, is leaping over the shark. Methinks come November he shall find that he has tripped over the beast and fell flat; however, good try.

  • Cincinnatus

    bunnycatch3r: In my line of work, I read and learn to comprehend (insofar as that is even possible in accordance with the authors’ aims) a lot of literary criticism, post-structuralism, post-modernism, deconstructionism, avant-gardism, and associated gibberish. I still have no idea what you’re talking about.

  • Cincinnatus

    bunnycatch3r: In my line of work, I read and learn to comprehend (insofar as that is even possible in accordance with the authors’ aims) a lot of literary criticism, post-structuralism, post-modernism, deconstructionism, avant-gardism, and associated gibberish. I still have no idea what you’re talking about.

  • bunnycatch3r

    @Cincinnatus
    You sound like a very intelligent person. And I think everyone in this room will agree that we’re all very fortunate to have you tell us so from time to time. Here’s an apple for your high horse ~ off you go now, cheerio!

  • bunnycatch3r

    @Cincinnatus
    You sound like a very intelligent person. And I think everyone in this room will agree that we’re all very fortunate to have you tell us so from time to time. Here’s an apple for your high horse ~ off you go now, cheerio!

  • Cincinnatus

    At the risk of making myself ridiculous by bothering to respond to a ridiculous comment, my point was that your former comment was gibberish–and I would know, as I read a lot of gibberish (that’s not bragging, by the way. Reading gibberish is not a privilege). What exactly did you mean? All I’m doing is obliquely asking for clarification. I see elements of post-feminism, demythologization, and a host of other buzzword-goodies, but no real conclusion.

  • Cincinnatus

    At the risk of making myself ridiculous by bothering to respond to a ridiculous comment, my point was that your former comment was gibberish–and I would know, as I read a lot of gibberish (that’s not bragging, by the way. Reading gibberish is not a privilege). What exactly did you mean? All I’m doing is obliquely asking for clarification. I see elements of post-feminism, demythologization, and a host of other buzzword-goodies, but no real conclusion.

  • Eric R.

    I recently read two books by Dr. Jonathan Shay, lover of the classics and psychiatrist at the Boston V.A., in which he compares the causes and symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in his patients (almost all Vietnam veterans) with the events in Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey. They are called Achilles in Vietnam and Odysseus in America, and although the first is better, both are excellent reads.

  • Eric R.

    I recently read two books by Dr. Jonathan Shay, lover of the classics and psychiatrist at the Boston V.A., in which he compares the causes and symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in his patients (almost all Vietnam veterans) with the events in Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey. They are called Achilles in Vietnam and Odysseus in America, and although the first is better, both are excellent reads.

  • bunnycatch3r

    All I’m doing is obliquely asking for clarification.

    You were obliquely asking for clarification by comparing my contribution to gibberish and I was having a bit of fun obliquely citing you for pompous fluff. Dr Veith’s “assignment” was to recall myths or legends which have application to our times. I predicted that most entries would in some way promote the familiar “conservatives good; liberals bad” mantra and so I attempted a different posture.

    I see elements of post-feminism, demythologization, and a host of other buzzword-goodies, but no real conclusion.

    I’ve been reading a lot of Mary Daly recently and thought it might be interesting to include her, Joseph Campbell, and Camille Paglia to the conversation. I agree that my abilities in this regard were not up to the challenge. However, in my estimation, I produced a pretty good first effort ( ~i.e., good enough for a blog response, fb entry, etc.) as well as a diversity of perspective~ which was my original goal.

  • bunnycatch3r

    All I’m doing is obliquely asking for clarification.

    You were obliquely asking for clarification by comparing my contribution to gibberish and I was having a bit of fun obliquely citing you for pompous fluff. Dr Veith’s “assignment” was to recall myths or legends which have application to our times. I predicted that most entries would in some way promote the familiar “conservatives good; liberals bad” mantra and so I attempted a different posture.

    I see elements of post-feminism, demythologization, and a host of other buzzword-goodies, but no real conclusion.

    I’ve been reading a lot of Mary Daly recently and thought it might be interesting to include her, Joseph Campbell, and Camille Paglia to the conversation. I agree that my abilities in this regard were not up to the challenge. However, in my estimation, I produced a pretty good first effort ( ~i.e., good enough for a blog response, fb entry, etc.) as well as a diversity of perspective~ which was my original goal.


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