Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Lessons from Greek mythology


[Orestes, middle, attacks Clytemnestra, right]

I spotted this in the sports section of the paper last year, but what with one thing and another didn't get around to posting it. It just goes to show how useful a knowledge of our classical heritage can be in everyday life.
In June, in reference to the adultery committed by the English soccer player Ryan Giggs with his brother's wife, TFF posed the throwaway question, "Is it worse for a man to sleep with his brother's wife, or his wife's sister? Discuss." Well, I never. I was overwhelmed with responses. Most tended to agree with me that "brother's wife", is worse; some said I would have to ask an AFL player of the ilk of Wayne Carey; although David Scott identified that the worst of all would be when your brother's wife is also your wife's sister.

The last word, however, goes to reader Bruce Hyland, who has what I think is an uncomfortably well-thought-out and referenced position on this. "The Greeks," he writes, "held that an offence against a blood relative was far more serious than an offence against a relative who was not blood-kin. Hence, Clytemnestra's murder of her husband, Agamemnon, was less heinous than Orestes's revenge killing of Clytemnestra, because Clytemnestra and Agamemnon were not blood relatives, whereas Orestes was Clytemnestra's [and Agamemnon's] son and, thus, the closest blood-kin. It follows that sleeping with one's brother's wife is beyond the pale, whereas sleeping with one's wife's sister may be regarded as a trivial peccadillo."