Showing posts with label Myth. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Myth. Show all posts

Monday, August 28, 2023

UMMC Urban Myths

For quite a while now, I’ve been collecting the urban legends that emanate from students and employees at the University of Mississippi Medical Center.  Now that I live next door, I’m looking for some new ones.  Urban legends are similar to myths.  They tell a story that’s usually related to something historical or factual but doesn’t have to be, and the story reflects some sort of moral value, as interpreted by the culture the story comes from.  They are cautionary tales that are disguised to not look like cautionary tales.

Being told in Mississippi by Mississippians, there’s some effort to make the stories more vivid, more interesting, and more local than, say, stories from the University of Pennsylvania Medical College, no offense to Pennsylvanians.  Stories generated in Mississippi will have our unique flavor and perspective on things like race, sexuality, gender, religion, and people from Mississippi State University.

I’ve been doing this for around forty years, and there are a lot of stories.  These are the categories I’ve organized them with.  

Stories about Cadavers:  Like the Greeks, UMMC students are obsessed with the moral implications of death, the relations between the dead and the living, and the influence of living morality on the dead body.   Stories about cadavers often have the elements of ghost stories but are couched in a medical scenario to give them extra vitality and credence.

Stories about Swelling and Exploding Cysts:  What goes into the body must come out of the body, and what more interesting way to come out of the body is there than exploding cysts?  Often, these stories involve elements of new ties/shirts/suits that are destroyed by detritus shooting out of a cyst.  These are often tales of how dedicated a young doctor might be who sacrifice his new tie or designer glasses to open the cyst, often on some fat woman’s taint.

Stories about Catheters:  The Greeks did this, too.  Stories about the phallus and its misadventures are both the stuff of comedy and morality.  A malfunctioning phallus and what must be done to make it function can encompass all sorts of memes about morality, culture, and body horror.

Stories about Aids:  Although they’re not as prominent now, there was once an entire genre of stories about Aids.  To the myth-maker, aids was not only a disease but a moral judgment against the people who violate the cultural mores about sexuality and gratuitous sexual encounters.  Stories about men, often upstanding citizens, who got aids by cheating on their spouses were common.

Stories about Strippers and Prostitutes:  Much like the aids stories, these are stories about sexual morality and the perils of wanton sexuality.  Strippers and prostitutes make a lot of money, but they end up at the hospital with fatal diseases or gunshot or knife wounds that prove fatal.  These stories are precautions both against using prostitutes and becoming one.

Dumb Mistakes/Darwin Awards:  There may be no greater cautionary tale than “Don’t do dumb things.”  Especially in the South, stories about “y’all watch this” or “y’all hold my beer.” are perfect for urban myths, and their arrival at the hospital with fingers/testicles/teeth/ears/toes blown off make great stories.    

Crime Doesn’t Pay:  Stories about criminals who show up at the hospital after the police or other criminals shoot them are pretty common.  While there’s sometimes a racial element to these stories, they all have moral implications.  If you hadn’t have been doing that, you wouldn’t have ended up here with a gunshot wound.

Because University is a communal experience, they are great places to generate stories, particularly myth-building stories.  Most of the stories I’ve collected about UMMC I can’t reprint here because they’re either really gross, really depressing, and sometimes obviously bigoted.  There are guys who spend their entire lives and careers studying the memes broadcast in stories like these.  It’s a fascinating area of study.

Sunday, August 13, 2023

Earth's Ill Fated Sister

We take the word “myth” to mean something this isn’t true.  “Is he Man or Myth?” “Unicorns are Mythological.”  This is a very superficial and inadequate understanding of the word.  Myths are stories we tell to explain very complicated and nuanced things that are nevertheless very important.  “Where do we come from?”  “Why are we here?”  “What is Justice?”  “What makes Greeks different from Persians?”  “What does it mean that we have one God and the Egyptians have many gods?”  

These stories have to be true, even if they’re not factual.  Truth and fact are not the same thing.  Factually it is not true that a great fish swallowed Jonah.  In truth, there are great and grave consequences for not following God’s plan for your life.  Hera may not have factually assigned twelve impossible labors for Heracles, but in truth, some men spend their entire lives and perform incredible feats to redeem themselves.  It’s unlikely there was ever a man like Heracles, but the myth of Heracles is true of all men.

From the beginning, the Greeks had a burning, passionate curiosity about the world.  They also were blessed with a very descriptive language which they used to create the most remarkable myths to tell the truths of the world, even if they lacked the scientific knowledge to discover the facts of the world.  To explain how the world began, the Greeks created the myth of Gaea and Uranus.  They had 12 children called Titans: Oceanus, Coeus, Crius, Hyperion, Iapetus, Cronus,  Theia, Rhea, Themis, Mnemosyne, Phoebe, and Tethys.

The titan Theia was the mother of Selene, the goddess of the moon, and it’s here that our story begins.

As the universe began to slow from creation and cool from the event that began it, pools of matter, mostly hydrogen, began forming in the new fabric of what we call space.  This matter, all matter causes a warp in the fabric of space; this warp draws bits of matter to other bits of matter.  

Imagine the surface of a trampoline.  In one spot on the trampoline, you place a heavy watermelon.  The mass of the watermelon warps the surface of the trampoline.  Now place an egg on another part of the trampoline and a cantaloupe on another.  The egg distorts the surface of the trampoline too, but not very much; so does the cantaloupe, which warps it much more.  Because the egg deforms the trampoline's surface less, it is drawn to the warp of the cantaloupe.  Once the egg and the cantaloupe are together, they are both drawn to the deformation in space caused by the watermelon. Soon, the egg, the cantaloup, and the watermelon all occupy the same deformation in the trampoline's surface.  

This is what happened at the beginning of the universe.  As matter began to come together, it created a deformation in space and time.  As more matter comes together, the deformation becomes larger, attracting even more matter to it.  Eventually, enough hydrogen is trying to press itself into the same instance of time and space that the matter begins to compress. The space between atoms gets smaller and smaller as the compression gets greater and greater, and eventually, the mass reaches a critical point. This ball of hydrogen ignites and explodes, creating a star, in this case, a star we call Sol, our sun.

In the explosion that created Sol, some of the matter from the original mass is ejected out with great force but is held in the gravitational pull of the new star, so the forces trying to fling this matter out into space work against the pull of gravity, and all this matter begins to spin around the new star.

At first, this matter was a flat disk, but lumps began forming in it over time.  The largest lumps become the planets Jupiter, Saturn, and Uranus. Smaller lumps contain less gas and more compressed rocky matter, and they form the other planets and the rocky inner planets, including Earth.

In the third orbit around the sun were two masses, one called Earth and one called Theia, because of her future role.  Both planets were still white hot from creation.  They burned across the sky, expelling their energy out into the coldness of space.  Theia was much smaller than Earth, about the size of Mars, and for millions of years, it held a stable spot in orbit around the sun, but eventually, the gravitational attraction of Jupiter and Saturn caused Theia’s orbit to spiral, and once it spiraled enough to escape its Lagrange point of stability and put it on a collision course with earth.  

Earth and Theia were molten and unformed at this point, but their rocky core had already formed.  Theia didn’t collide with Earth head-on, but more of a glancing blow.  The force of the collision made most of the molten rocky core of Theia join with the Earth's molten rocky core, which is why the Earth has a core much larger than the other rocky planets.  

Some of Theia’s matter was flung out into space and became part of what we now call the asteroid belt.  Parts of Theia and parts of Earth were pushed to the side of Earth, far enough away to collapse into their own body rather than fly out into space or collapse back into Earth.  

Within hours gravitational forces formed this molten matter into a globe, much smaller than the Earth, and forever locked in orbit around it.  The planet Theia gave birth to our moon in much the same way that the Titan Theia gave birth to Selene.

Ancient Greeks didn’t have access to the type of physics or the computers necessary to calculate how the collision of Earth with a previously unknown sister planet might form the moon, but they understood the causality of things and created a myth to tell the truth of the moon’s origin, even if they had no way to know the facts.  Even my essay is more myth than science because I skipped over huge volumes of physics and computational mathematics, but it doesn’t make what I wrote any less true.


Sunday, July 2, 2023

Lee and Agamemnon

 In Lee: The Last Years, Flood quotes one of the "KA Five" as saying of Lee that "We likened him unto Agamemnon."  I always found that strange because things didn't end well for Agamemnon.

For a white Southerner, college-educated in the nineteenth century, it's not at all surprising that they read and studied the Illiad.  Agamemnon, drawing the Greeks together for this great cultural and political, and military adventure, probably did remind him of his service under Lee, both as a soldier and as a student.  

Apparently, whoever taught Greek literature, at Washington College, after the war, didn't include the Orestian Trilogy in their lessons.  Agamemnon's life may have been the origin of the Greek State, but his death was the origin of Greek justice.  Their professor only told them half the story.

Unlike Robert E Lee, who I'm absolutely certain was real, I'm not at all convinced that Agamemnon was ever a real person.  If he was, I can't imagine his real story matching up to the myth at all.  That's not what myths are for.  

Myths create stories that explain societies.  Sometimes they build up over many years, and disparate stories are combined and remade to fit the narrative the culture builds.

Every culture needs two creation stories.  The first is a metaphysical story.  The earth was a woman, and the sky was her husband.  The gods came as horses rising from the foam of the sea.  The Greek stories of metaphysical creation are fascinating and beautiful.  

They also need a myth about their political creation.  In Judaic culture, that's Joseph and Abraham, and Moses.  These are stories about what sets our people apart from other people.  They are vital in creating a cultural identity.  For the Greeks, the Illiad serves this purpose.  The Greek culture created itself with a story about defeating Troy, fighting over their ideas about the honor of a woman.

There are other very important myths, though.  Myths about where our cultural values come from.  In the bible, you have stories about Cain and Abel sewing the seeds of ideas about justice.  That's what the death of Agamemnon and his son's quest for redemption does for the Greeks.  It creates and describes in them the idea of Justice and just redemption.

It's entirely possible that the myth about Agamamemnon's life and Agamemnon's death was originally two entirely different people that were merged together into one story.  I think that happened a lot.  

Lee's political campaign might have created the political culture of the South, even though he lost the war, but there's been a much longer struggle for justice to come out of the Civil War, one that we're still fighting today.  I can't really say that Lee was part of that battle.  His purpose after the war was to get these boys, who had been his soldiers, prepared to be productive citizens again.  The question of Justice in the South would not be answered in their generation.  I'm very much starting to doubt that it will be answered in mine.

Education is a funny thing.  You can't ever really fit a complete understanding of any subject into any one lifetime, even if what you're trying to understand happened thousands of years ago.  Whoever taught the KA five about the Illiad didn't mention what happened to Agamemnon when he got home.  That was a pretty serious omission. 


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