"Myths are made for the imagination to breathe life into them."
-- Albert Camus, The Myth of Sisyphus (1942, 1955)
Nearly 60 years ago, an Algerian ex-middleweight named Albert paused from his reporting on WWII to muse on the myth of Sisyphus in an attempt to address some fundamental philosophical problems (including whether life is worth living) at a time when it seemed quite clear that no higher power was controlling world events. Sisyphus had been condemned to push a rock uphill for all eternity. When he reached the summit, the rock would roll back down. Camus looked closely at Sisyphus and his punishment. How could he endure in the face of the absurd? Camus imagined Sisyphus content as the "struggle itself toward the heights is enough to fill a mans heart."
It comes as no surprise to me that Camus would turn to the legends of Greece in his effort to find parables for existentialism. Indeed, one merely has to glance at the day's papers or television to be reminded of the rich contribution Greek in general and Greek mythology in particular has made to our language.
Tales of the Greek heroes are familiar to this day. The Labors of Hercules, Jason and the Golden Fleece (The Argosy), The Trojan War (The Iliad), The decade-long adventures of of Odysseus following the fall of Troy (The Odyssey), the wanderings of Aeneas and the founding of Rome (The Aeneid) retain continued vitality -- or they should!
Every week the syndicated adventures of Hercules are broadcast (I only watch when Xena co-stars), each 2 years we have the Olympics. Rocky is making a comeback -- will Apollo Creed be resurrected? Every time I see a Nike logo, the sweeping check seems a poor substitute for the mythical Bestower of Victory. Nike would appear on the battlefield, her beautiful alabaster body carried by heaving white wings, her golden hair streaming in the wind. She would minister to both victor and vanquished alike. Glory is not only for the winner.
Boxing, perhaps moreso than other sport, makes legends of men and dotes on its past champions. In other sports, statistics are relenting examined. In boxing - and certainly on the Cyber Boxing Zone - the deeds are paramount, even if they do inflate into myth with the years.
Brawling, brooding, petty, mendacious, loyal, generous, and promiscuous are words that fairly describe the Greek Gods and Heroes of mythology. The same words could easily describe the sport of boxing and its myriad characters. Yet, how many of us know that the phrase "put up your dukes" and "duke it out" refer to the name of the God of Boxing, Polydeuces? Remember the recent John Woo movie Face Off? The names of the brothers were Castor and Pollux Troy-- Pollux just another name for Polydeuces. According to myth, the twin brothers Castor and Polydeuces were among the greatest fighters of the day -- Castor was the greatest wrestler of ancient times and Pollux the greatest boxer, barring perhaps the rugged slugger Herakles.
Castor and Polydeuces were along on Jason's quest for the Golden Fleece. At one stop, the Argonauts were challenged to a boxing match by King Amycus, who slew strangers that way. Polydeuces killed Amycus with one blow -- to the elbow!
When Castor was killed, Polydeuces refused to accept immortality. Eventually, Zeus placed the twins in the heavens where they remain to this day as the constellation Gemini. So, Polydeuces is the first star of boxing!
We have other stars in the record books who serve to remind us that man is never far from myth --
We all know the ancient Olympic games included boxing, and that the name comes from Mt. Olympus, home of the Gods. Mt. Parnassus was one of Apollo's sacred mountains, the caves of which contained the Oracle of Delphi.
Should it come as any surprise then that Hall of Fame Promoter George Parnassus was amtchmaker at the Olympic Auditorium for many years?
Jason Mathew recently one an alphabet title. Was the public fleeced by this Jason?
Teddy Atlas probably would have impressed Camus with his philosphical take on his approach to boxing. The Atlas of myth was none too bright, however. His punishment consisted of holding up the rim of the sky at the western edge of the world.
When the mythical Atlas finally got Heracles to releive him of his task, Heracles -- no bright light himself -- quickly tricked Atlas into taking over again through a mythical version of "your shoelace is untied." Herakles simply said "You win, Atlas! But hold this for me while I adjust my Lion skin!"
Herakles has had one Heavyweight namesake -- Mike "Hercules" Weaver, another guy known for brawn rather than brain.
Hector "Macho" Camacho certainly is a legend in his own mind. His name comes from the ultimate loser, Hector, leader of the Trojan forces, who was killed by Achilles then dragged by his heels around the city. The taunts of Achilles as he did so are perhaps the earliest and nastiest example of trash talking.
Even Evander Holyfield takes his name from a Greek God. Evander of Myth was a son of Hermes -- no not the tie, the God of thieves! -- who settled in Italy before Aeneas. Evander introduced Greek there and is generally considered the father of Latin.
There are other lesser examples -- a Chief Paris fought at the early part of the century, a Ulises (Odysseus) fought for the junior Feather title, a Nestor lost to Wilfredo Gomez, and so on.
But that quickly becomes a trivial game that digresses from the notion of men and champions.
Returning then to Polydeuces. Was it Olympian genetics that enabled him to claim the title of pound-for-pound champion? No, it was more than that. Was it guts? No, as Papa Hemmingway wrote: "Guts never made any money for anybody except violin string manufacturers." Was it will, determination, focus? Well, I'll let you decide. But here are the mythological facts -- In his pursuit of greatness Polydeuces burst into the workshop of Hephaestus (Vulcan) and demanded that his hands be lopped off. Then, he forced Hephaestus to forge hands of steel for him. With these fists, Polydeuces was able to hammer his way to victory against all odds.
So, the next time you look up at the night sky (or, for that matter read the horoscope page), think a little of Gemini, Polydeuces, and the sacrifices that others have made to become stars.