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(53) Violett



An idea that is commonly put about as regards the ancient Greeks is that their moral system was based on the Latin maxim, “De gustibus non est disputandum” (In matters of taste, there can be no dispute). The idea owes something to Nietzsche, to the idea that morality is really an aesthetic question—good taste being something that can be taken to be gustatory or aesthetic, yet not about “good” or “evil”. It further contains that the idea that many things, thanks to the Christian legacy, previously regarded as “evil” are just, rather like ultra-sour Haribo sweets, perhaps not to your taste though they are very much to mine—so perhaps you should butt out and let me enjoy my Very Cherry Cola Bottles in peace.


Then again, if I show you a vase that depicts Hector tearing his hair out because his son has been killed in battle, does it not seem to be pedantry to say, “Of course, the Greeks would not regard such an act as ‘evil’, as ‘an evil that befell him’, rather they might say that to have your son die is sour…”? And so, presumably, since there is no dispute in matters of taste, there are parents who enjoy the “flavour” of their child’s death…


Of course, this is nonsense, nonsense based on becoming lost in language and the differences in vocabulary and grammar between languages and over time. A father’s grief that his son has been slain in battle is universally recognisable; and if you call it “sour” in your language then that is close enough to “evil”—all evil is sour, though not everything sour is evil (Very Cherry Cola). It is as if you said that because the French say “merde” not “shit”, there is no dogshit in France—for sure, languages do convey certain qualities excluded by other languages; and yet they relate back to things, such a facial expression of grief, that are outside language—only the mendacious muddy the waters contrariwise.

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1 Comment


lampinhand
Sep 14, 2022

Ackshually, Hector had only one child, a son named Scamandrius, who outlived him. (Though all accounts agree that he didn't outlive his father by very long.) Scamandrius was killed shortly after his father's death, precisely because the Achaeans feared that he might grow to avenge that death -- that is, take it out on them a couple decades hence. And, in truth, the Greeks would certainly call Scamandrius' death "an evil" in the manner you describe it. The Ancient Greek word for "evil" was synonymous with "bad," "ignoble," and "shoddy." So, in the Iliad, you hear men talking about "an evil time" or "an evil death," etc. Cow-eyed queen Hera then replied to Zeus…

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