Sunday, November 16, 2008

Ideas Girl Learns About the Crucifixion

Those of you who know me may know that it's been a long standing goal of mine to raise my children to genuinely believe in the Greek gods. (I'm 50% -- ok 5% joking). This goal actually predates having any children and I didn't think it would survive it, particularly since Ideas Woman, Esq. has made it clear that it will be hard enough for secular/intellectual kids to fit in without their actual believing in the Greek gods (also, I'm pretty sure she regards it as a club she's not a member of... even though I've offered to sponsor her...)

Now, in my line of work there are a lot of silly folks who go a little overboard on the greatness of the Greeks, and I am no doubt one of them. But I try to defend myself by pointing out that my interest in Greek mythology predates my interest in philosophy or classical civilization or just about anything I can remember. The first book that I can really remember loving is D'Aulaire's illustrated book of Greek myths and I've been obsessed with Greek mythology for as long as my memory goes back.

Because I come from a family of religious zealots, it should come as no surprise that these stories inevitably presented themselves in their conflict with Christian (and Mormon) stories (I feel an intuitive sense of what Hoelderlin means in "Der Einzige" [The Only One] when he asks how he can love both Heracles and Jesus, and when he implies he'd choose Heracles if he hadn't been so tyrannized by a jealous religion. But I have no intent of living the last 30 years of my life in a joiner's tower... On a somewhat related note, I think the fact of my having grown up in a repressive sexual culture and having learned about sex from the classics also means that I am one of the last people to have an intuitive sense for the sexual hangups of Victorians, but that's a different story....

So even though the Bible is every bit as full of great stories as those you'll find in Greek mythology (although no stories in the Bible approach the greatness of Ovid), I've never been able to be an equal partisan of both. I really would like to. But it just isn't in the cards for me.

I would, however, like my beloved secular children to have a little healthier of an attitude to their heritages* than I do.

Recently, Ideas Girl started getting into Greek mythology. I am sure it is partially because it delights me so much and that makes her happy, but I swear that this isn't the main motive and I've tried to keep my elation on the DL. I don't remember how it started --- I think she insisted on hearing a story and for whatever reason I told her the story of the birth of Athena. Then she started insisting on hearing more and more Zeus stories. At first I was circumspect, but she didn't seem to mind the darkness of the stories at all --- Now she'll say things like "I just love Zeus daddy, don't you?"** --- and her favorite stories are Daphne, Arachne and Persephone (she loves Hades). And she is a total fraidy cat --- I guess this just goes to show that children can handle ambiguity much better than we give them credit for ----

Well, maybe. Certain dark stories are apparently always traumatic.

The same day that she started getting into Greek stories, we went to the Toledo Museum of Art
which was surprisingly awesome (I'm not intentionally dissing my new home, I just wouldn't have suspected such a great art museum in a place I had hitherto known as the home of Maxwell Klinger.) Oh, also it was free which makes it extra awesome.

Anyway, they have an excellent kids area where kids can do hands on art and various activities related to art and so we spent quite some time there. But we eventually got Ideas Girl to leave there (Ideas Boy, B.A.B.Y. still has no choice in such matters...) and we started to see the collection.

Now, lately Elena had been really into "I spy" and so we played that for a while and she got pretty into that, but it quickly turned out to be the case that she was far more interested in hearing the stories behind the paintings. Since we were in the pre 1850 European art area they were of course largely drawn from classical mythology and the Bible.

And there were, of course, tons of Madonna and Childs. So this seemed the perfect time for me to try out my magnanimity. Who doesn't like the baby Jesus, after all? And in fact, the Baby Jesus is about all Ideas Girl knows about Christianity. Whenever I think about the Nietzschean claim that God is dead, I think about talking to Ideas Girl when she was almost a year and we were at a wedding, telling her all about the things she was seeing and then announcing very seriously and without irony "And this is a church," only realizing how funny it was later that not only had she never been in a church before that, but also the whole world-view in which church's figure simply hadn't ever come up. And until very recently, she thought that people were saying "oh my gone," having never encountered the word "God..." But the Baby Jesus does figure in our Christmas since we have a Christmas tree, advent calendar, nativity scene and sing the songs. (We might as well do the parts of our heritage that we like). So she likes the Baby Jesus, although perhaps not as much as Ricky Bobby does.

Ideas Girl especially liked the revelation that Mary wore red and blue and that you could identify her in the pictures by it. Soon she was yelling out, "There's another one of Mary and the Baby Jesus" from across the room. So things were going swimmingly, and then...

We were in a room of medieval art built in a reconstructed cloister and I failed to notice a tapestry on the wall. Ideas Girl did, however:

"There's another blue and red. It's Mary! But where's the Baby Jesus?"

"Oh that's from when Jesus was grown up."

"Is he that man?"

"Um, yes."

"What happened to him?"

Suffice it to say, we left that room in tears. And that was the end of our trip to the Toledo Art Museum.

* To all my po-mo friends: I do not mean to imply that Athens and Jerusalem are the only legitimate sources of their heritage. But I'm tired and don't have the time to couch this claim in requisite circumspection.

** The funniest thing she ever said though --- when Zeus had turned into a bull to adbuct Europa --- "There are a lot of turn into's in these stories, aren't there?


KHG said...

This is neither how I imagined Ideas Girl would learn about the crucifixion nor how I thought she might respond! Poor unexpectedly killed the protagonist. Did you explain the resurrection part?

Ideas Man, Ph.D. said...

I know, I felt pretty bad about it and don't know why that risk didn't occur to me.

We talked about the resurrection, but it struck her as a bit too "deus ex machina."

Heather said...

Greek geeks is a club I'm not a member of, and this is by CHOICE. I don't think I can emphasize this enough, however, I don't think you can get it because it does not compute for you. As I've said a million times, the stories just don't resonate with me. And it bothered me as a child that I couldn't remember all the characters when some of my friends could. I do find Elena's love of Zeus stories absolutely adorable though. Even though it lowers her opinion of me that I can't recite them off the top of my head.

I think the dramatic end to this post doesn't draw enough attention to the fact that we were SURROUNDED by images of Jesus being crucified. And there was no apparent way to get out of the museum without encountering more and more dead Jesuses (Jesi?).

Jennette said...

I've known the story of the crucifixion my whole life but I'm still terrified by crucifixion paintings. I do not blame her for wanting to get out of there.

Persephone is my favorite story too, Elena should call Tom and convince him that Persephone is a good name for our new baby.

Emily and Austin Gray said...

Hey -- great to find your blog! You need to fill us in on what you are doing in Toledo. And yes, you do wear that sweater a lot. Isn't it Heather's?

Your post reminded me of when we took Lucy to see the Cloisters in NYC when she was around 3. Lots of crucifixions and madonna-and-childs. Lucy had just one question: "Mom, why is Jesus always naked?" Wow, he really always is. I never noticed before. It's really useful to have kids to point out the obvious.

Ideas Man, Ph.D. said...

Thanks for stopping in. Yeah, I guess he is naked a lot. I guess if you're Jesus, you can be.

Ideas Man, Ph.D. said...


Yesterday, Ideas Girl asked me, "What's maligion?"

Joe said...

I realize I am getting in on this really late, but what the hell...

I also liked Greek mythology as a kid (though clearly not nearly as much as you), largely because of the manliness and athleticism and ass-kicking and stuff (even when it comes to Atalanta...). And because I loved the Harryhausen Jason and the Argonauts. But I don't really care for it much anymore, and now feel about the matter much as Heather does. In perhaps the ultimate apostasy, I really like the movie Troy because of the way it completely weeds the gods out of the story. I think I am more genuinely secularized than you...

And wouldn't it be way cooler to get your kids to believe in Wotan and Thor and soforth? I suppose If I were to translate your greek mythology thing into my own terms, I would have to get my kids, if they are created, to believe in Batman, or maybe Dominque Wilkins...