King Augeas of Elis by the River Alfeios became the richest man in Greece from the gold he seized as one of Jason’s Argonauts in the Golden Fleece exploration of Colchis, what nowadays is the precious metals, timber, petroleum, grains rich Black Sea lands.
He owned thousands of animals whose manure created air pollution whose stink he could no longer tolerate after 30 years.
Augeas demanded that the cleaner of the barns must do it in one day! Hercules was awarded the job as his fifth of the 12 Labors or more precisely 12 Miracles; in Greek the word is “athlos” from which athletics derived and means achieving the ultimate, the miracle, something like what the medal winners at the Rio Olympics did!
To clean the barns, Hercules rerouted the flow of two rivers through the cattle barns. The combined volume of the rivers flushed out the barn manure in a day, and the feat was hailed as Hercules Principle #1, it being that “The Solution to Pollution is…Dilution!”
It has been applied most successfully in the flushing toilet innovation that has sanitized and deodorized our homes.
Hercules’ Principle #1 is the core tenet of the transformational American legislations of the 1960s and 1970s on water, air, and soil pollution control that were also adopted by the rest of the world.
These pioneering policies require that the concentration of materials in effluents must not exceed the capacity of the air, water, and soil resources of the Earth to absorb them without degrading their natural state.
However, the amount of organic wastes and more alarming non- biodegradables has increased manifold especially in the last century, vastly exceeding the capacity of the earth to absorb them.
Acceleration of natural climate changes is one the consequences. As an environmental engineer I claim that Hercules Principle #1 has had as significant an impact on the morphing of our physical world as the morphing of our intellectual world by our Greek philosophers.
Parenthetically, I have used this story in my lectures around the world since the 1960s. As part of my work on animal waste treatment in Singapore as a United nations technical expert, we designed a flushing system to remove the excreta from the barns emulating the feat of Hercules three millennia earlier using a siphon-system, by the way, that was first used in the Knossos Palace in Crete, 4000 years earlier.
The flushing of barns on pig and dairy cattle farms caught on soon thereafter and is now widely practiced around the world.
Hercules used his wealth from his revolutionary environmental engineering feat to start the Olympic Games coming up with his second pioneering idea, Hercules Principle #2: “Cease all polemic hostilities for conquest and come to Olympia to fight for bloodless victories and be crowned with a crown of laurel leaves” but earning timeless fame, thanks to the great lyrics of Theban poet Pindar!
Today the Olympics are the most prestigious, largest sporting event in the world. When you consider the number of people involved today in professional, amateur and school sports, the enormity of the Power of the Olympic Idea is beyond estimation.
It is beyond the dream of Pierre de Coubertin and that of the first President of the Olympics Demetrios Vikelas.
In a recent conference in Shanghai extolling the health virtues of sports such as Qi Gong, I got up to say that “At the same time that you, the Chinese, were coming up with your marshal arts, my Greek progenitors had come up with the idea of the Olympic Games. Oriental Martial Arts finally have been incorporated into the Olympic Games. The World is becoming ONE, thanks to a 3000-year-old Hellenic Idea and Ideal!”
While touring the island of Sicily last year, I pondered my good fortune of being able to practice my Hellenic culture and Greek Orthodox religion in complete freedom in America but at the same time to be witness to the greatest era in human history, the American Golden Age.
Perhaps Greeks in the Sicilian diaspora of the Fifth Century (the Greek Golden Age) felt the same way about their irenic days following triumphs against the Persian invaders, the days that set the foundations for Europeans, rather than Asians, to dominate the world culturally and financially for 3000 years – until now, anyway!
Just as after the Persian Wars young students flocked to Athens seeking knowledge from the world renowned philosophers, America became the Athens that Pericles had boasted about – the Gymnasium of the World – an Oasis welcoming students from war-devastated Europe at first but opened the gates to Asia and Africa a few decades thereafter.
Alexander spread Hellenism into Anatolia and the inner Asian continent, spreading European culture to Asia but at the same time facilitating the spread of an Asian religion in Europe. Christianity morphed the Roman Empire into a Hellenic Byzantium. Europe, cultured by Hellenic ideals that inspired the Renaissance, emerged onto the world stage by colonizing the Americas, Africa, and Asia, while five centuries of repressive Ottoman Turk occupation of the Anatolia and the Balkans marginalized Greece.
Nostalgia is the Greek word for being homesick with a bit of melancholy for the halcyon days of “home”. Nostalgia derives from nostos, the inexorable quest of people to return to their birthplace, the way salmon do.
Amazingly, 3,000 years ago, blind bard Homer must have known this when he wrote his universally acclaimed epic poem the “Odyssey.”
The return in 2004 of the Olympic Games to Greece where they started 2,780 years before (776 BC) could be attributed to the collective power of nostos.
The unique opening ceremony show of the 2004 Athens Olympics, which were my epiphany that converted me from an environmental engineer to a promoter of Hellenic ethos, was copied at the panegyric 2008 Beijing Olympics.
Amazingly the most populous country in the world followed the example of Greece the smallest country to host the Olympics.
I had the privilege to be invited to witness the lighting of the Olympic Flame for the 2016 Rio Olympics in the Universal Holy Land, the sacred grounds of Ancient Olympia.
Every Greek in the Diaspora must visit at least once in our lifetime the holy grounds of Olympia where Hercules started one of the most transformational ideas, that of peaceful competition in athletics, not unlike the most transformational idea of governance, Periclean Democracy in Athens, two Hellenic legacies that have transformed our world.
(Eliseos Paul Taiganides/Greek Ethos Editor)