Monday, September 14, 2009

The Sword of Damocles

The versions of the story from modern times suggest that an imminent danger comes with having wealth.  I have no idea why the story would be told that way.  It seems more an injuction against the method one uses to gain the wealth rather than the actual having of it.  The wealthy person, in this case was, after all, a cruel and unjust king who was known as a tyrant.

James Baldwin wrote the version I just read, and in it, he writes that Damocles says "I now see that I was mistaken, and that the rich and powerful are not so happy as they seem."  Would he have said to King Dionysius, "King Dionysius, whatever threatens you does not threaten me.  This is why you have hung that sword there - because my use of your riches does not put me in danger of your enemies.  I did not ask for the rage and anger that you have brought upon yourself by being cruel and unjust, but only to see how the rich and powerful live.  Surely there are good kings, kind and just, who also have such power and riches.  You could show me that, but you chose to add the sword that your cruelty has created."

No, of course he wouldn't have said that.  Instead, he plays the king's game, pretending that it is his power and riches, rather than the injustice and cruelty he used to get them, that presents imminent danger.  But the story itself does this too, for it says (in Baldwin's words) "And so long as he lived, he never again wanted to be rich, or to change places, even for a moment, with the king."

Did this come through the story, or was it added by Mr. Baldwin?  Does it matter?  Does this story create a fear of being wealthy in you?  Can we, today, tell our politicians off because they use deceit and empty promises to gain power and then abuse it to gain more?  Or will the media pay more attention to the lack of decorum to which our passion drives us (Wilson), than to the unjust cruelty out of which that passion is born?  Or will they invoke the Patriot Act and silence us with threats, or use previously illegal wiretapping to spy on us and stealthily degrade our livelihood in order to prevent us from making these accusations?

The meaning of the sword has been hijacked.  I write to right this wrong.  It is not wealth that raises the sword to your necks, my friends, but cruelty, injustice, and deceit.

1 comment:

Ernest Dempsey said...

Agreed! I feel as if the 'fear' associated with wealth is a by-product of the envy and deprivation suffered by the masses. Since many writers mostly tend to reflect the feelings of the masses on any issue, wealth has become a bad spell. And the best way to correct is to spend wealth for benevolent causes, washing the fear with trust.