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28.09.2019

An ancient Greek ego boost

Reading Homer’s Iliad or Odyssey I’m always struck by the epithets. Every time one (of course, ancient) Greek addresses another, he always remembers to mention a few virtues of the latter as well as the ever-present patronymic. For example, “Oh, Laertiades, much-enduring, much experienced man, Ulysses.” Laertiádēs in Greek stands for “son of Laertes”. A modern Russian would say Одиссей Лаэртович, Odyssey Laertovich — clearly, a sign of respect and good manners. And thus a few dozen times on a daily basis! The Greeks would often allude to the father’s virtues and say a few good words about the mother, too. But don’t be fooled — this is not some praise speech or, pardon my Greek, a eulogy, but rather an everyday practice. Slice me some bread, oh wise Odysseus. What plans do you have for tomorrow, man of many resources, son of the sage Laertes? Willing or not, you suddenly feel compelled to straighten up your shoulders as befits a worthy son of an honorable father.

One may say — wait a minute, Homer thus spoke of kings and lords and other men of exploits, not simple mortals. Not at all! Even the humble swineherd Eumaeus earns titles like “good”, “generous”, “humane” and even “god-like”. And women? Here, feast your eyes: “Daughter of Icarius, fair and wisest of so fair a kind, Penelope.” An incessant recharge of narcissist feelings, a powerful boost to your ego, reminding you who you are, whose offspring, and what you ought to be.

This makes me wonder — how do we address each other in everyday life? Let’s say, when calling children to eat? “The dinner is getting cold, you little brats!” How do we ask our spouse to mow the grass in the yard? Make plans for tomorrow? And when referring to our parents-in-law — do we emphasize enough their virtues that, certainly, influenced our partner in life? Or the other way around?

It is so tempting to conduct a little experiment and, at least for one day, address the family members in the Hellenic manner. “Oh resourceful Alexander, son of the wise Marcus, tempered in family battles! Please go to buy some pasta and cheese. Fair Susanna, daughter of the lovely-haired Lorella, is eager with these exquisite foods to sate the hunger of her so esteemed household.” And, of course, address the children in the same way. Say not “little brats,” but “honored offsprings of a noble house,” for example. I’m curious about the outcome. But — it is paramountly important, at any time, not to fall victim to Homeric laughter. Otherwise, the effect of the narcissistic ego boost is null.

(Translated from Russian and adapted from some Facebook post I once came across.)

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