Wednesday, May 4, 2011


I'm sure most of you saw the misquoted MLK jr speech or the cheers and virtual grave dancing all over the internet the past few days. I was terribly annoyed. I say, if you're not a New Yorker, STFU, but that's my opinion and I'm a New Yorker :) What bothered me most is that people were telling each other how to feel or shaming others who didn't react "correctly" in their eyes. Bullshit. You feel how you feel and that's that. I'm sure most of us feel a mix of emotions.

My answer to all of the posts? A correct Martin Luther King Jr. quote: "the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends towards justice." Take that as you will. Everyone gets to define "moral" and "justice" per their own life and associations.

I'm here tonight to chat a bit about revenge. Tho the phrase existed earlier, The Godfather further popularized "Revenge is a dish best served cold." There are a few old Italian proverbs of a similar vein:

"He who cannot revenge himself is weak, he who will not is contemptible."
"Revenge a hundred years old has still its milk (baby) teeth."
"Who has patience sees his revenge."
"In revenge, haste is criminal."

From a speech recorded by Livy:

     “The Romans are a race who know not how to sit down quiet under defeat;              
any scar, which the present necessity shall imprint in their breasts will rankle
there forever, and will not suffer them to rest until they have wreaked manifold
vengeance on your heads.”

This is the quote which leads off this paper (a pdf which downloads when you click the link) on revenge and justice as seen by ancient Romans. It's long but very well written, research is cited (there are footnotes! <3) and it touches upon many things we've mentioned in this blog including Roman founding myths, Octavian, Lucrece, Etruscans, and the Latin wars (where Rome decided to conquer their neighbors and take over. Kinda like NYC invading NJ for the farmland. Not that I'd mind Cuomo as governor, but anyway...). It's something to read when you have time to sit down and take it in and to pull up the original texts cited.

We've talked briefly about defixiones tables before, mostly in relation to fertility. There were several categories of curses, from winning competitions, to politics, to court cases, to sex and love, to business to straight up revenge. Actually, many of the tables involved a plea for revenge or justice, as the writer saw it.

Hekate, Persephone, Pluto, Hermes were all invoked, as were others. The cthonic deities were involved in this magickal letter asking for help. The letter, scribed in lead or some other thin metal, invoked a deity, stated what they wanted done, then it was folded over, pierced with a nail and either buried or tossed in the water.

Revenge and vengeance have been personified as deities by both the Romans and Greeks who called to Invidia and Nemesis respectively. Nemesis was originally one who distributed balanced, justified fortune in due measure without any "good or "bad" connotations. She became an avenger figure later on.

So why am I going on about this? Revenge runs deep. Thousands of years deep. The paper I linked to above makes a distinction between revenge and justice. Revenge is thought to be emotional, a primal kind of if you get hit, you hit back for survival, lest you be shown as weak. Is there a difference? It's a matter of perception. YOUR perception, and whichever side of the quotes you were on this week, how you take it is up to you and no one else.

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