Black Cat

 

Apparently human beings are easily fooled by coincidence – we are tuned for life in a Stone Age village, where not that much happened.

The maths of probability are skewed by the everyday experience of everything happening to us. As the precocious footballer Mario Balotelli is wont to say ‘why always me?’

Lady Luck is our constant companion, as we try to fit random events into a sensible narrative of what the blazes is happening to us. Studies suggest the gods (although not God) first sprang from here.

So how much of life is luck, how much is the luck you made – for better and for worse? Who knows. It all seems to makes sense looking back; but at the time…

Was it me, others, chance, caprice – or the hand of gods or God? Whatever and wherever you ascribe the credit or blame, like the handsome black cat who once stalked me for a fortnight, I have landed firmly on all four paws this week. 

Happy days.

Xerxes

Xerxes – controversially portrayed as a narcissistic androgynous giant in the blood-spattered film 300 – broke with Persian tradition and laid waste to allies and enemies with enormous forces, before losing interest, losing ground and retiring to lotus eating and luxury. Or so some say.

His patina of invincibility was chipped by Leonidas’s legendary 300 Spartans’ suicidal defiance at the ‘hot gates’ of Thermopylae. A Persian General said of them: “Ye Gods, Mardonius, what men have you brought us to fight against? Men that fight not for gold, but for glory.” Spartans sought their immortality in glorious death.

In film and folklore Xerxes was a god amongst men before succumbing to human frailties. Is Xerxes a myth, a legend or history? Probably a bit of all three. A reading of Robert Graves’ Greek Myths suggests most ancient history, legend and mythology is in fact a bit of all three.

But a tale from Montaigne’s suggests that even as Xerxes set out to conquer all, he saw, in the same instant, the limits to his dominance:

Montaigne XXXVII

Artabanus coming by surprise once upon his nephew Xerxes, chid him for the sudden alteration of his countenance. He was considering the immeasurable greatness of his forces passing over the Hellespont for the Grecian expedition: he was first seized with a palpitation of joy, to see so many millions of men under his command, and this appeared in the gaiety of his looks: but his thoughts at the same instant suggesting to him that of so many lives, within a century at most, there would not be one left, he presently knit his brows and grew sad, even to tears.

Greek myths tell us that power and glory are always transient. Even the most powerful among us are mayflies in historical, let alone geological time. Xerxes is a reminder that men cannot be gods. We have at best three score and ten, whether we are millions or 300 men. It behoves us to use our time well.