The ancient Greeks occupy a prominent position in my consciousness. This is completely justified in my opinion.
In their conception of afterlife, paradise was “Elysium,” or the “Elysian Fields.” This land was a reward only for the chosen few, who would dwell in happiness therein, participating in whatever pleasurable activities they had enjoyed in life (these imagined pastimes were obviously very low-tech occupations – music, games, athletic competitions, etc).
Homer placed the Elysian Fields on the far western rim of the Earth, by the edge of the world-circling river Oceanus. For Hesiod Elysium was the “Isles of the Blessed,” apparently located within Oceanus itself. Pindar of Thebes considered Elysium a single island endowed with shady parks.
Courtesy of Wikipedia (emphasis mine) –
“to the Elysian plain…where life is easiest for men. No snow is there, nor heavy storm, nor ever rain, but ever does Ocean send up blasts of the shrill-blowing West Wind that they may give cooling to men.”
— Homer, Odyssey (4.560–565)
“And they live untouched by sorrow in the islands of the blessed along the shore of deep-swirling Ocean, happy heroes for whom the grain-giving earth bears honey-sweet fruit flourishing thrice a year…”
— Hesiod, Works and Days (170)
“The good receive a life free from toil, not scraping with the strength of their arms the earth, nor the water of the sea, for the sake of a poor sustenance. But in the presence of the honored gods, those who gladly kept their oaths enjoy a life without tears…where ocean breezes blow around the island of the blessed, and flowers of gold are blazing, some from splendid trees on land, while water nurtures others.”
— Pindar, Odes (2.59–75)
“They enjoy moderate rains at long intervals, and winds which for the most part are soft and precipitate dews, so that the islands not only have a rich soil which is excellent for plowing and planting, but also produce a natural fruit that is plentiful and wholesome enough to feed, without toil or trouble, a leisured folk. Moreover, an air that is salubrious, owing to the climate and the moderate changes in the seasons, prevails on the islands…west winds that envelope the islands sometimes bring in their train soft and intermittent showers, but for the most part cool them with moist breezes and gently nourish the soil.”
— Plutarch, Life of Sertorius, VIII, 2
Astonishingly, I believe that a paradisiacal land exists which closely matches the ancient Greek’s conception of Elysium. It is a strip of land running along the coast of California (specifically the strip closest to the sea indicated by a kind of yellow-green color in the image below) –
Actually, while I am pretty sure that the strip extends south to the area around the Channel Islands, I am not certain how far it runs north of the San Francisco Bay. It certainly does NOT run all the way to the top of the state.
Now, California is a very difficult place to try and make a living in 21st century society as a latter-day human. The average Californian struggling unsuccessfully to make ends meet while sliding inexorably towards financial ruin commands personal wealth somewhere in the 90th+ percentile of all the humans who have ever lived.
This is, of course, absurd.
How is it that a human like myself, born into the earthly manifestation of paradise as conceived by one of the greatest civilizations our species has ever produced, richer in physical comfort, transportation, medicine, knowledge, and entertainment than nearly all the kings of history, can still suffer and insist that he does not have enough to survive and provide for his family?
The answer, of course, is SOCIETY.
“In no fix’d place the happy souls reside. In groves we live, and lie on mossy beds, By crystal streams, that murmur thro’ the meads.”— Virgil, Aeneid (6.641)
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