The city of Athens was famously the scene of contention in ancient Greek myth between the god of the sea and the goddess of wisdom and art, to see which could prove the greater benefactor.
The wonderful 1962 edition of Ingri and Edgar Parin D'Aulaire's Book of Greek Myths, which was a big influence on me when I was growing up, describes the contest this way:
Athena was very fond of a certain city in Greece, and so was her uncle, Poseidon. Both of them claimed the city, and after a long quarrel they decided that the one who could give it the finest gift should have it.
Leading a procession of citizens, the two gods mounted the Acropolis, the flat-topped rock that crowned the city. Poseidon struck the cliff with his trident, and a spring welled up. The people marveled, but the water was salty as the sea that Poseidon ruled, and not very useful. Then Athena gave the city her gift. She planted an olive tree in a crevice on the rock. It was the first olive tree the people had ever seen. Athena's gift was judged the better of the two, for it gave food, oil, and wood, and the city was hers. From her beautiful temple on top of the Acropolis, Athena watched over Athens, her city, with the wise owl, her bird, on her shoulder, and under her leadership the Athenians grew famous for their arts and crafts. 36 - 37.
You can see various ancient versions of this account, including references in the works of Plato and of Ovid, here.
The gifts of the olive tree -- and of access to the mighty sea itself and all of its blessings -- were rightfully seen as gifts from the gods in the ancient myths, the ancient wisdom, given to the people of Greece in remotest antiquity. And the same understanding, that the blessings of sunshine and rain and fertile soil and harvest and wood-bearing forests and mighty rolling oceans and even the treasures of gold and silver and other mineral wealth hidden deep in the earth were all gifts from the gods, can be found in the other ancient sacred traditions -- which Peter Kingsley calls the "original instructions" -- which were given to every other culture on our green Earth in the earliest times.
And indeed these ancient sacred myths or "original instructions" can all be shown to be closely related and based upon a common, worldwide system of celestial metaphor. Indeed, some of the likely celestial patterns upon which the famous contest between Athena and Poseidon for the patronage of the city of Athens are discussed in Star Myths of the World, Volume Two, which focuses primarily on the myths of ancient Greece. And the evidence that this system is extremely ancient -- perhaps preceding the earliest admitted civilizations to conventional history, such as ancient Egypt and ancient Mesopotamia and the ancient Indus-Saraswati region, by at least as many millennia as those ancient civilizations precede our own day -- is touched upon in my most recent book, Astrotheology for Life.
So we can say with a fairly high degree of certitude that the ancient pattern given to humanity and preserved from unbelievably ancient times includes the conviction that the blessings of the earth and the sea and the air and the sunshine, which modern economics generally categorize as natural resources, are blessings bestowed by the gods for our benefit. That these gifts are to be treated with respect, and not with disdain or ingratitude or with greed, is also attested to in many ancient myths and texts, including in the writings of the ancient philosopher Plutarch, who himself appears to have been an initiate in certain ancient mysteria, and who declares in the surviving fragments of his text "On the Eating of Flesh" that acting with greed to have more than the gods choose to give is in essence "slandering the earth" and acting shamefully towards the gods, in this case towards grain-giving Demeter and wine-giving Dionysus.
In light of this discussion, we should pause to consider the current situation in the modern country of Greece, where natural resources -- which under the world's ancient wisdom are seen as blessings given by the gods to the people -- are being sold off or "privatized" in order to benefit a few people at the expense of the people as a whole, to whom they were given by the gods. This is a pattern that can be seen to be taking place all over the world, and at an accelerated pace in recent decades, but it is especially visible in Greece, and especially poignant, given the fact that it is taking place in the very places spoken of by the myths of ancient Greece.
It is also especially significant, given that ancient Greece constitutes one of the cultures that gave birth to the concept of "the West," and whose ancient traditions and mythology and artistic achievements are preserved in abundance -- allowing us to see even more starkly the contrast between the ancient vision in which the fields and the mountains and the sunlight and the water and the rolling waves belonged to the gods and were given to humanity by the gods' good graces, and the vision that has characterized much of "Western history" since becoming cut off from the ancient pattern handed down to humanity, an alternate or inverted vision in which those gifts of the gods can be taken away from the people to whom they were given, and taken over by a few for their own enrichment.
Last year, the government of Greece sold a majority ownership (67% ownership) of the port of Piraeus to a corporation (in this case, a global shipping company based in China, called Cosco), as described in this article from the Financial Times.
The Piraeus, of course, is the famous port of Athens, and can be seen near the left edge of the aerial image above of the Greek capitol city (where there is a long diagonal "cut" or "corridor" of water protruding into the shore and fanning out into a wide, three-part "cup-de-sac" at the end, creating a curving peninsula just to the right of it). During ancient times, as you may recall from history, the Piraeus port was connected to the city of Athens by the "Long Walls," which created a protected corridor down from the polis to the port itself. The primary harbors of Piraeus were fortified by Themistocles in the 470s BC, after the Athenian fleet had played a significant role in the repulsion of the Persian invasions, and the Long Walls were completed under Pericles in the 460s or 450s BC.
Other ports and natural resources are also being sold off by the Greek government to corporations or large consortiums of private investors, including the port of Thessaloniki, Greece's fourteen regional airports, the Greek train company TRAINOSE, the water system, and many other resources over which corporations and private investors salivate due to their ability to collect what amount to tolls or recurring revenues through the control of vital infrastructure necessary to the conduct of business or the sustenance of human life.
The government of Greece is being pressured to sell these assets off to the country's creditors, while at the same time cutting social programs including pensions, education spending, healthcare, and other parts of the budget, also to pay their creditors (in the familiar pattern dubbed "austerity"). But, as economist Michael Hudson explains in several different essays, books and interviews (including this one, for example) when lenders deliberately extend loans that they know are beyond the ability of the borrower to repay, with the ulterior motive of seizing the assets of the borrower which the lenders or their friends covet for themselves, this behavior is a form of predation or indeed warfare by financial means -- and in any case, predatory or not, "no country should be obliged to impose poverty on its population, and sell off the public domain in order to pay its foreign creditors."
In his excellent recent book J is for Junk Economics, Professor Hudson defines "public domain" as:
The commons, consisting of land and natural resources, infrastructure and government enterprises. Natural monopolies such as canals, railroads, airlines, water and power, radio and television frequencies, telephone systems, roads, forests, airports and naval ports, schools and other public assets were long kept out of private hands. Their privatization since 1980 has turned them into rent-extracting opportunities for hitherto public services.
Financing their purchase on credit (often at giveaway prices paid to debt-strapped or corrupt neoliberal governments) enables these monopolies to include interest, dividends, and high managerial salaries in their cost structure. The most rapidly rising consumer prices in the United States since 2008, for instance, are for health insurance [ . . . ], education and cable service. Privatization and economic polarization thus go together. 186.
Clearly, there is a connection between what the ancient wisdom describes as the "gifts of the gods" and what classical economists describe as the "public domain" or "the commons." In fact, some of the earliest classical economists, the French "Physiocrats" led by Francois Quesnay, specifically argued that the economic wealth that came from the land and which was demanded in taxes by the "nobility" was actually "not produced by the nobility's labor or enterprise (contra John Locke) but by nature, ultimately from the sun's energy" -- that is to say, from the gods (or, if you prefer, from Nature), as Professor Hudson explains on page 177 of J is for Junk Economics (and at greater length in his previous book Killing the Host, in a passage quoted in part in this previous post).
Under his definition for the "commons," which are synonymous with the public domain, Professor Hudson provides another specific list which includes "land, water, mineral rights, airwaves and other public infrastructure" and argues that these create "natural monopolies" which are best administered in society's long-term interest via government or a community, not monopolized by rentiers as the ultimate takeover objective of financial capital" (60).
But because they are natural monopolies, they are coveted by those who want to privatize them and erect tollbooths around them -- depriving the people of the gifts that are given by the gods (or, in the terminology of the Physiocrats, given by the land and ultimately by the energy of the sun). To cite a portion of just one more definition from J is for Junk Economics, Professor Hudson's definition of "privatization," we read that:
Since 1980 the main lever of privatization has been financial. Debt-strapped governments are forced to sell off the public domain as a conditionality imposed by the IMF in exchange for credit to avoid defaulting on bank debts or forcing debts (see Washington Consensus). The prime assets being privatized are natural monopolies able to extract economic rent by raising prices for hitherto public services. These rents tend to be paid out as tax-deductible interest to affiliates in offshore banking centers in order to deprive host economies of a public return on their land and natural resource patrimony or their immense capital investment in infrastructure -- much of which was financed by foreign debts for which governments remain liable.
Such privatization de-socializes public infrastructure, usually by rent extractors in partnership with government insiders. Access charges may be raised as high as users ("the market") will pay. Junk economics pretends that this will be more efficient than public investment to provide basic services at low prices. The reality is that countries that fail to invest in minimizing the cost of basic services (by avoiding tollbooths for financialized rent extraction) have a higher cost of living and doing business, making them less competitive in global markets. 181.
Note the clear resonance of what Professor Hudson is here arguing with the ancient idea that the bounties of nature (whether sheltered ports or mineral wealth below the earth's surface or even the electromagnetic spectrum) are actually each proper to a god or a goddess (the riches beneath the earth's surface, for instance, being proper to the god Hades or Plouton in ancient Greece, and the electromagnetic spectrum might be argued to belong to the god Zeus himself, wielder of the thunderbolt and ruler of cloudy air and the heights of Olympus) -- and that these resources are thus a sort of "patrimony" or inheritance given to all the people, and are not supposed to be fenced-off in order to enrich a few corporations or individuals who set themselves up in the place of the gods.
I would even go so far as to argue that the world's ancient wisdom teaches us that the gods in fact have their home in and express themselves through living men and women. We can see abundant evidence of this ancient understanding in passages found in the ancient Egyptian Book of Going Forth by Day as discussed in a blog post whose title is taken from a passage from that ancient Egyptian text: "There is no member of mine devoid of a god." We can also see evidence of this ancient understanding preserved in sacred traditions from other cultures, such as ancient India, where the gods appear in an instant when they are called -- indicating that they are always present and indeed that every man and woman has an inner connection to the Infinite realm, the realm of the gods. That same post notes that the god Thor, known in northern Europe, would also appear in an instant when called by name.
Further, we could look at the people who are born in any given land as being given by the gods themselves as well. As I discuss in the aforementioned Star Myths of the World, Volume Two, the goddess Artemis was understood in ancient Greek myth to preside over every single mother in childbirth -- and similar teachings can be found in the sacred traditions of virtually every other culture on our planet.
If you think about this line of reasoning, you will then see that it dovetails very nicely with Professor Hudson's assertion that privatization deprives the public, the people, of their "patrimony" or their inheritance, by taking away what belongs to the gods and which is given by the gods to all the people, and fencing it off for the benefit of a few (who thus by their actions attempt to usurp the place of the gods -- and who also by their arguments usually attempt to convince others that their usurpation is natural and right and in the proper order of things, an argument that the people in general almost always see right through, either immediately or else eventually).
It should be abundantly evident to anyone who is even casually familiar with the myths of ancient Greece (as well as with any of the other myths given in antiquity to the families of humanity around the globe) that the attempt by greedy or vainglorious or prideful mortals to usurp the place of the gods, or to fail to properly acknowledge that their gifts came from the gods, always ends in complete disaster.
When the vain and prideful Arachne boasted that her skill at weaving was superior to that of the goddess Athena, for example (thus failing to acknowledge that Arachne's very skill at weaving was a gift from the goddess herself), the goddess famously turned Arachne into a spider. According to some ancient sources, the beautiful maiden Medusa did not think it excessive to have others compare her beauty to that of the same goddess -- and was for her punishment turned into a monster. Many other myths involve maidens who declare that their beauty is as great as or even greater than that of one of the goddesses, always resulting in disaster.
It should not surprise us that societies characterized by the privatization by the few (usually by corporations or by well-connected individuals or families, and always in collusion with government insiders, who consent to giving away what is not really theirs to give away at all) of the gifts of the gods in the form of the natural resources of the land and the air and the sun and the waves will face similar negative consequences until the natural order is restored and the gods are again acknowledged and respected. As Professor Hudson explains in the "privatization" definition above (and as he demonstrates with more extensive proofs in many of his full-length books), when that which should belong to the people is instead fenced off with "tollbooths for financialized rent extraction," the cost of doing business and producing goods goes up (as does the price of hiring labor, since workers must necessarily spend more themselves in order just to survive, and thus will have to be paid higher wages as a result), and the country becomes less competitive, and is ultimately hollowed out economically if the process goes on long enough.
I would argue that this deprivation will also ultimately end up in the degradation of men and women, who are deprived of the blessings intended by the gods and properly belonging to the people themselves (the people that the gods cause, or allow, to be born in that land -- all the people, not just some of the people, but all of the people: who themselves come from the gods and through whom the gods work and in whom they have their home, in one sense, according to the ancient texts and traditions). When the people are not given the dignity they merit as men and women, when they are not allowed to manifest all the gifts of the gods, then the entire society suffers.
Ironically, or fittingly, it should be noted that the port of Piraeus was very close to the location that the participants in the ancient mysteria of Eleusis -- the famed Eleusinian Mysteries which are believed to have gone on for two thousand years in a row before they were shut down during the reign of the Roman emperor Theodosius, a literalist Christian, in AD 392 -- would go down to the sea and bathe while carrying a live piglet during the opening days of the annual ritual.
These sacred mysteries were open to all participants, male or female, free or slave, from whatever land of origin, just so long that the participant could speak Greek and had never committed the crime of murder. The rites of Eleusis were designed to elicit a connection to the realm of the gods in each participant, and can thus be said to have been a consummate representation of the ancient vision given to the cultures of the world that there is in fact a realm of the gods, and that we are supposed to recognize our dependence upon their gifts -- indeed, the dependence of everything in the material realm upon the invisible or infinite realm, which is the source or fountain of everything in this material realm, and of all good gifts.
Cut off from this vision, corporate entities, collaborating government insiders, and wealthy investors seeking to erect tollbooths upon the natural resources of the commons in order to enrich a few "within the fence" at the expense of everyone else "outside of the it" are thus setting themselves up against the gods, inverting the vision described in the world's ancient wisdom, and inviting disaster upon themselves and their entire societies.
I believe that the people in general know these truths, in deep way that comes from the fact that this wisdom was given so many thousands of years ago and has informed so many, many successive generations -- and that attempts to deny them or tell men and women that the privatization and degradation that they see accelerating around them is somehow natural, right, and just will be instinctually or intuitively rejected, even if they are not able to articulate the historical and economic connections the way that Professor Hudson is able to do in his books and articles and interviews.
But we have been deliberately and systematically cut off from the ancient wisdom by those who want to collaborate against the gods, in a campaign that started at least seventeen centuries ago and which continues to this day.
The good news is that the wisdom contained in the world's ancient myths, scriptures and sacred traditions is still available to us. And what actually belongs to the gods and is given to all humanity by the gods cannot in reality be given away or legally transferred to the ownership of those who think it belongs only to themselves.