What can Greek Myths Teach Us About Our Ideals?

The interesting thing about the Greeks is that they view themselves one way, but their actual behaviors tend to be another way. Take the case of the Athenians. People living in Athens actually fell into three distinct classes. There is the nobility; and there are the free people; and then there are the slaves.

If you have ever studied classical Greek mythology and Greek society, in particular, this information would probably have escaped you because you would be taken in by all these amazing philosophies as well as amazing intellectual work. However, that intellectual body of work requires funding. People can’t just normally drop everything and simply write philosophy. Somebody has to pay for that, and this is where the slave society comes in.

It really is a leisure society where only a relatively small fraction of the population had the luxury of sitting around in an open area talking about philosophy and matters of the mind. All the hard, back-breaking labor to put food on the table and keep a roof over your head as well as keep you safe from invaders were done primarily by slaves. I bring up this dichotomy because this is, in my opinion, the biggest lesson Greeks can teach us.

When we look at their mythology, we realize that there is often a disconnect between how the Greeks think of themselves, how they’re perceived by other people and how they actually behave and think. These three identities, if you will, are disconnected from each other.

Believe it or not, that’s how most people are. In our minds, we are basically at the top of the world. We are doing the right thing. We’re putting up the good fight. We have the right ideals. However, when you look at how people actually behave as well as the stories they tell themselves, a completely different picture emerges. This is the main lesson Greek myths have to offer to us.

If you think about it, it’s a cautionary tale. The moral of the story is if you want real progress, then you have to be willing to get real. In other words, stop looking at your present reality based on the ideals you are reading into facts. Look at them for what they are. Appreciate them based on how they really are because you’d be surprised as to how disconnected your ideal vision or overarching philosophy and mission/vision statement as a culture to how things truly play out on the ground.

If you need a modern example of this, you just look at America after the Vietnam War. If you ask the typical American, they have a distinct American-centered view of their country’s impact on the rest of the world as well as history. They are the torch bearers of freedom. That is not an uncommon description of how Americans see themselves, or they are the Vanguards of human rights. However, if you look at how the US Government has actually performed, a totally different picture emerges.

So, this disconnect in Greek mythology between theory, and practice still resonates to this time and day.