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‘I’ve Seen Several Giants Die on My Land’

6 31 10

A new anthology about climate change acknowledges that we are both willing participants in and at the mercy of the systems that are destroying us.

Greek mythology can be helpful when trying to make sense of the climate crisis. The imminent threat of total ecological collapse carries a certain mythological air, with its sweeping scale and embedded warnings against hubris. Hubris, after all, landed us here—that mortal weakness that brings individuals to ruin and topples empires, that fixes in us the delusion that power, once obtained, is permanent. That no man or god or gale-force wind can snatch it away.

There are several allusions to myth—Greek and otherwise—in The World as We Knew It: Dispatches From a Changing Climate, a new anthology co-edited by Amy Brady and Tajja Isen. One of the most striking is in the science journalist Meera Subramanian’s essay, “Leap.” In it, she retells the story of the giant Antaeus, who channeled the power of his parents—Poseidon, god of the sea, and Gaia, goddess of the earth—to challenge unsuspecting passersby to wrestling matches, believing he could never lose. It isn’t until Heracles comes along that he is finally defeated. Antaeus’s strength came from contact with the earth; sever him from it, Heracles realized, and his power would dissolve. Heracles lifted Antaeus off the ground, and “the giant’s strength drained out of his suspended body like an ice cube melting in the sun.” In the end, Antaeus dies pitifully.

Read: Nature writing that sees possibility in climate change

The Antaeus myth is one of many that eerily parallel our current predicament. Our power also comes from the Earth—in the form of fossil fuels, the global food supply, breathable air, potable water—and we, too, can be severed from it. But Subramanian interprets the myth as an actionable lesson. Antaeus “touched the earth to redouble his strength and then wasted it accosting strangers,” she writes. “We could draw on the same earth force, but instead of using it to........

© The Atlantic

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