Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Greek Gods and the Human Genome

Imagine my surprise to find out I was unique. No, not just quirky, but really unique just as you are and everyone else. So says the International Hap Map Project whose scientists are busy mapping the human genome.

Of course, I had secretly believed I was different ever since childhood when my family bore no resemblance to those in movies or sit-coms. Nobody could curse the landlord (for holding back on the heat), the grocer (for not giving good weight) and the gods (for god-knows-what) at the same time like my mother. I sensed that other families were also, in their way unique, but we were more unique than any of them.

Now that our mini-micro architecture is being revealed we may discover the combination of why I gave up on Yahweh early on but believed in other larger-than-life deities. If my mother had given birth to me 2 ½ millennium earlier I would have embraced the Greek pantheon of gods for this and goddesses for that. For every human mishagosh, another god and why not?

With Zeus as the puppeteer-in-chief life was fraught with possibilities. Just curb your hubris and you’d get by. I could never keep all the names straight. As if the Greek line-up wasn’t enough, the Romans felt it necessary to rename them. So Athena became Minerva. Hermes morph to Mercury, Aphrodite to Venus and so on.  

You have to thank Chaos and Eros (Cupid) whose names have crept into the language.  Hercules was herculean, and Achilles had his famous heel, easy enough. Narcissus couldn’t get enough of himself reflected in a pool and poor Echo was consigned to repeat herself into oblivion by the god of revenge, Nemesis. But it’s too much to ask of us to remember that Artemis and Apollo were the twin kids of Zeus (Jupiter) and ever squabbling over turf. It seems that every God had half-brothers and multiple off-spring as if they needed the exemptions for tax purposes.   

It all becomes overload for my sadly unique brain. There are simply too many begotten and misbegotten. Prometheus passed along the secret of fire which fevered Zeus more than a centigrade or two. The Greeks imagined a price to be paid for every act. They must have puzzled long and hard over the array of human impulses and assigned a god or goddess to fit our woebegone behavior. They probably underestimated the extent of human folly. Otherwise Mt. Olympus would have been even more stacked with deities.

The notion of an extended family of flawed gods has more appeal to me than a single godhead especially one badly in need of an anger-management class. The array of Greek gods who made the cut is a credit to their grasp of human psychology. The allegories depict us as vulnerable creatures wavering between free will and possession by the fates & furies. The gods themselves had fatal flaws so why not us? Multiple gods suggest a way towards living with the ambiguity of contending forces. Fast-forward 2,500 years and we still have trouble with doubt. We want to know and when we confront the unknown or randomness we make connections that may not exist.

On the other hand Science keeps pushing into areas we previously thought off-limits. One wonders if they will ever be able to fish from the gene pool the DNA which accounts for such specimens as Cliven Bundy or Donald Sterling. What went wrong with these miscreants? The Greeks may have sent a thunderbolt but we have to just put up with them. Do we really want to pluck the mutants from our midst? I ask you, Zeus, and await your reply.

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