SarahBurke Burke 1
22 April 2009
Erysichthon and America
The story of Ovid’s Erysichthon recants the horrific consequences of greed, power, and debt, until finally showcasing a descent into the depths of hell. This literary piece relates quite well to modern day America and the predicament we have placed ourselves in. Through the same actions of Erysichthon, greed, power, and debt, we are in the midst of the ultimate collapse. Perhaps if our politicians of today only knew that all that possesses the past possesses the future we would not be facing such a terrifying dilemma.
Erysichthon’s story begins with a want for lumber and the commencing of a party into the woods to retrieve some. Erysichthon holds no trepidation for the Gods and disregards them entirely. Erysichthon takes this disregard with him as he advances to a tree in complete solitude that bore tributes to the Goddess Ceres, each containing a prayer. Erysichthon plunges his axe into the tree mutilating the bark as he proceeds. There is a lone cry from the band of men that have trailed behind Erysichthon but the protest makes Erysichthon frantic and he truncates the man’s head.
America’s story begins quite literally with the creation of the automobile and the supervene demand of oil in which to manufacture gasoline. As America’s population grew, so did the demand for crude oil which was not only used for gasoline but also, “…ink, crayons, bubble gum, dishwashing liquids, deodorant, eyeglasses, records, tires, ammonia, and heart valves.” And with an estimated population of 307,212,123 by July 2009 , the United States demand was beginning to exceed its supply.
So, it may just be an improbable coincidence that America decided to wage war against a country with, “the world’s second largest proven oil reserves. According to oil industry experts, new exploration will probably raise Iraq’s reserves to 200+ billion barrels of high-grade crude, extraordinarily cheap to produce. The four giant firms located in the US and the UK has been keen to get back into Iraq, from which they were excluded with the nationalization of 1972.” Like Erysichthon, America performs an act both morally and ethically wrong in pursuit of a resource it needs. Again, as in Erysichthon few people voted against our commander and chief to no avail, “The vote on House Joint Resolution 114 as taken on October 11, 2002. It passed the Senate by a vote of 77 to 23. The 21 Democrats, one Republican and one Independent senator…”
Erysichthon is successful in his quest for lumber and destroys the tree housing the nymph sacred to Ceres. This victory does not come without a price however, “She condemned him/To Hunger—/But infinite, insatiable Hunger, The agony of Hunger as a frenzy…” Erysichthon soon felt hunger in his sleep, he would tear at the empty air, lick his lips, and dream of food.
When awakened, Erysichthon consumed everything in his sight but still Hunger remained. Though Erysichthon was a king and certainly had reserves of money at his disposal he soon found it running extremely thin from the constant acquisition of food and the sub sequential devouring of said food. So Erysichthon made a disturbing choice; he would trade his last possession, his daughter, for food.
As previously discussed, Americas own appetite for petroleum by-products continued to grow to an unsustainable level. The oil fields discovered from our warfare were certainly helping to feed the insatiable beast but American knew we must continue to control this Mecca of resources least we not be able to satisfy our demand. So America, like Erysichthon, sent our own sons and daughters to retrieve and protect the assets we so desperately desired.
Erysichthon remains arrogant and proud until his very demise never once seeking out the cause of his curse of Hunger or apologizing for his horrific defecation of the tree. Instead, he continues to prosper by using his daughter’s gift from the god Neptune in his favor. But even his daughter’s new found gift cannot save Erysichthon from himself. In a dramatic last scene Erysichthon transforms into his own food and eats himself alive.
America is also arrogant to the affects of our addiction and all but refuses to research alternatives to prevent a fate identical to Erysichthon’s. “The Iraq war has already cost the lives of nearly 4,000 U.S. troops, but there is another cost that is not so readily quantifiable: the economic toll. Forecasts of the cost to the U.S. have reached into the trillions of dollars, fueling a controversy over the impact on the budget and the economy.” This article was written well over a year ago and we now know the economic toll the war has caused. Not only did the cost of gas reach close to five dollars not but a few months back but the government is having to troll farther and farther into debt to protect both industries and citizens. Yet, there has been little research into what can substitute as an alternative to gas and little done, though there have been promises, to remove our presence in Iraq.
The absolute truth is this, America is eating itself alive. We no longer can afford to sustain the practices and luxuries we have become accustomed to and if we, like Erysichthon, choose to ignore the dilemma we face we will reach our ultimate demise. If there is one thing we should take from this class it is not the knowledge of authors, literary styles and mythological ceremonies, but the fact that these stories possess our own lives each and every day. As the old saying goes, if we do not learn from our past we are bound to repeat it.