Monday, May 13, 2013

Augeas’ Immortal Cattle

Yet another story in the papers of toweringly complex corruption in our financial sector brought to mind the stables of Augeas—and, not coincidentally, the absence, no matter how searchingly one looks, of any figure as potently large as Hercules. But our discussion lead me to look up the story of Hercules’ sixth labor. It had made a vivid impression on me reading it as a child—so much so that the mental images I had then formed were back, pristine. But back in those days an important, and in a way amusing, feature of the story did not register in my young mind—or was, perhaps omitted from the account I read. As the Wikipedia article puts it, “the livestock were divinely healthy (immortal) and therefore produced an enormous quantity of dung.” The emphasis is mine. That had us laughing. All things have a bright and a dark side, you might say. It is good to be immortal in this material dimension—but the consequence appears to be the ability to produce fantastic, towering, gigantic, and presumably ill-smelling mountains of dung. But, as a more humble writer of the modern age has put it, “A river runs through it.”

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