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Genesis of a Historical Novel

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

looking for answers

Back to the routine of work. The B.C. Day long weekend is over, and also Kimmie's extra day off yesterday, giving us a mini-vacation in this glorious time of summer. Again, the city became deserted on the long weekend, making it all the more pleasant to remain here.

Yesterday the weather turned to overcast and cool drizzle, and we had a visit from Warren, my scriptwriting collaborator. He is en route with his family to Hong Kong, where his wife has been posted for two or three years with the British bank HSBC. It's been two years since I last saw him, and it may be two or three before I see him again. Thus does globalization reach into our mundane lives.

Since my travels are now in the mind, I'm happy to stay in one place. I've been reading in Hellenistic Religions: An Introduction by Luther H. Martin that the Hellenistic period--which is the period of my story--was a time of wandering. People traveled and drifted. A powerful new goddess, widely worshipped, with temples in many cities, was Fortune--whom we now know as Lady Luck. People saw their lives as buffeted by the unpredictable winds of luck. Like us, they saw themselves as sandwiched between chance and necessity: driven by mechanical forces beyond their control, and also subject to continual random rolls of the dice. Even the gods were seen as subject to the same forces.

We live in a similar period, with similar ideas. Our term globalization would have been familiar to Alexander the Great, and indeed this was his aim: to unite the (known) world under a single benign government, united by the universal adoption of what he regarded as the world's best culture--the Greek.

Our scientific ideas are also, again, the same. We imagine the world to be driven on the one hand by mechanical, deterministic forces (classical physics), and on the other to be the product of purely and ultimately random events (quantum physics, evolutionary theory). While our laws and societies and personal lives are built around the notion of choice, freedom, and individual responsibility, we have no scientific way of accounting for such ideas. We see ourselves as mechanical, random machines that are also, paradoxically, free and goal-oriented.

This dog's breakfast of beliefs would also have been familiar to the denizens of the Hellenistic world. It was an individualistic society, as ours is, in which people felt increasingly alienated and estranged from the centers of life. The questions were rising in the human soul: what to value, and why?

These questions are still with us, of course. The psychiatrist Viktor Frankl said that life does not provide us with answers; life asks the questions, and we provide the answers. It doesn't make finding them any easier, but I suppose it changes the direction of the search. We can wander the earth, but we need to look within.


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