The Greeks and Us

Lately I’ve been beginning my mornings reading the Greek Tragedies. It has been a joy! Perhaps the biggest theme in the Aeschylus and Sophocles I’ve read so far: the pressure of justice upon children. I’ve been reminded of something I wrote on that topic awhile ago about more modern times:

Compared to how often parents denounce and disown their children, it is remarkably rare to see them do so in print. Why? Perhaps because, to anyone outside the writer’s particular family orbit, slagging one’s offspring utterly undermines one’s standing as a parent, and hence one’s authorial credibility, too. (The father of cannibal Jeffrey Dahmer, Lionel Dahmer, saves his harsh judgments for himself.)

I can think of only one example in the genre: Famous atheist Madalyn Murray O’Hair’s rejection of her first son, William Murray, after he became a born-again Christian. (This son was the “Murray” in the Supreme Court Case Murray v. Curlett in which the court banned prayer in United States schools.) O’Hair wrote: “One could call this a postnatal abortion on the part of a mother, I guess; I repudiate him entirely and completely for now and all times. He is beyond human forgiveness.”

Books by adult children attacking their parents, on the other hand, are everywhere.  Parents, even if they are not dead, can’t fight back without bringing upon themselves righteous fury and dishonour. This genre, then, allows justice for those children among us who could never defend themselves before, but for the rest it provides a template for cowardice and disgrace that is tempting for a time. [4 June ’04]

2 Comments»

  Plant Electrician wrote @

I, too have recently been reading the Greek tragedies along with my son. We have had enjoyable conversations about them.

  PC Mott wrote @

Great observation. I know of very few written cases of a parent saying “my kid is shit”. I have seen a few but they are usually followed by self-blaming for said awful human and the bad job of parenting they did. We all should be reading, or re-reading, the Greek tragedies.


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