Those Wacky Ancient Greeks

Did you know the word ‘gymnasium’ comes from the Greek word ‘gymnos’ which means ‘naked’? Ancient Olympic athletes competed nude, supposedly to ‘increase the appreciation of the male body’ but also as a tribute to the gods. Wonder which god(desse)s had front row seating…?

Modern Olympic games have been on the skids for a while now. Between judging scandals and host cities losing boatloads of money, nobody seems to care about them the way they used to. I don’t know about you all, but I think this naked competition thing might be just what the Olympics need to recharge interest.

By now you’re probably thinking, that’s interesting, but what the heck does this have to do with story-telling?

A question that comes up on a regular basis when talking to other writers is, ‘Do you think this is original enough to merit writing?’

My (silent) answer is always the same: if the story is any good, it’s already been told. If the Ancients didn’t cover it, Shakespeare did.

But unlike my kid’s religious ed teacher, I’m not here to be a Debby Downer.

[Aside, in her syrupy sweet voice: ‘Does anyone know what King Herrod wanted to do to Jesus? That’s right, he wanted to kill the baby Jesus. And when he couldn’t, he just killed all the two-year-olds in the land.’ Talk about a story that should have been skipped, at least for second graders.]

Back to novelty in story-telling. The fact that the story has been told before shouldn’t discourage anyone from retelling it. If anything, writers of all stripes should be encouraged to reuse the great stories, because those are the ones that resonate most deeply with us.

Despite all our gadgetry, people aren’t much more sophisticated than they were thousands of years ago. Another not-new invention: hair removal. Those ancient Greeks were vainer than any Hollywood wannabe and they didn’t have a No-No to help them in the process of epilation. Cement, quicklime and arsenic were popular methods. If you died, hey, at least you looked good.

Tis the holiday season and I’d like to give everyone the gift of regifting. Go ahead and plagiarize. Slap a little fresh polish on and no one will even care. We love these old stories for good reason.

T.S. Eliot is credited with saying, ‘Mediocre authors borrow; great authors steal;’ but I bet some ancient Greek said it first.


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