Thursday, December 18, 2008

Myth of the Sole

It was an "instantly mythic moment" according to the NY Times. Indeed the thrown shoe flies far back into the past. Posting for National Geographic's Pop Omnivore, Marc Silver writes on the history of Thrown Shoes and Other Hurled Insults. "Your feet walk on dirt. [...To] show the sole of your foot in Middle Eastern countries, in Thailand, and in a few other places—it’s a terrible insult. People get into huge fights when they think someone has purposely shown the bottom of their foot, barefoot or in shoes. If you cross [your] legs and let the sole of your shoe face someone, that can be a terrible, terrible insult. People have been killed for that." He traces the gesture back as far as ancient Egypt, where people "sometimes drew a pictograph of their enemy on the bottom of their sandals and walked on them symbolically."

This reminded me that the ancient Greeks also used shoes to express contempt. In my novel, Night of the Furies, the young trio of archeological sleuths contemplate a 1st Century BC statue of Aphrodite, the goddess of love and beauty:

Eros, the winged cherub, fluttered just over her shoulder, while standing beside her was the goat-god Pan, doing his best to seduce her.

It's difficult to tell whether Eros is trying to defend Aphrodite or encourage Pan. But there's little doubt of the goddess' intent, flashing the sole of her sandal.

Later in the novel the trio investigate the ancient Eleusinian Mysteries. Initiates to the annual religious rite--which included both women and slaves--joined together in a boisterous 14-mile procession from Athens to the seaside city of Eleusis.
At one point, crossing a bridge over the river Kephisos, "Men with heads covered to conceal their identity sat on the bridge and hurled ribald insults at distinguished persons in the procession" (H.W. Parke). Whether it was done to "forestall any ill luck" or was simply an opportunity for merriment, we have to ask ourselves: What ancient culture other than the Greeks would have allowed such freedoms to its citizens? How many cultures even allow them today?

We have much to thank the ancient Greeks for, just as the Iraqi people--despite legitimate complaints and terrible costs--have much to thank our soldiers for. According to the brother of the Iraqi reporter who "spontaneously" threw his shoes at President Bush, he had been planning his "protest" for nearly a year. There was a time, not too long ago in Iraq, when he wouldn't have been free to even imagine such a thing.

No comments:

Post a Comment