From Zeno to Bibi (and Tzipi?) Part 1

Many thanks to the folks who wrote or called to tell me they enjoyed “The Goddess of the Final Play.” That tough old retired US Army colonel, especially, who confessed that he was “a softie for a happy ending.”

But was the ending happy?

OK, the young lovers finally get together, albeit in a somewhat unusual manner. But the last sentence, about the world changing, was, to put it mildly, “contrary to fact.” They might have changed, but the world? No way.

Clearly, however, this was going to be no casual hook-up, no “friend with privileges” affair. Two very bright, affluent young people with great futures ahead of them. Unless, of course, the world changes, and not for the better.

As mentioned, I originally wrote this story for my son when he was playing high school varsity football and we were arguing about women’s physical capabilities.

An aside: The last half century in the United States, and also in Israel and elsewhere, has yielded a data base on female capabilities such as has never existed before in human history. Women in the military and in combat as professional volunteers. High-level athletics. The crewed exploration of space. Major changes in medicine, nutrition, physiological understandings. Cultural tectonic shifts, disavowing the old tyrannical equation of female with “feminine” and “feminine” with “weak” and “passive.”


So the story was originally about female capability. But like all fiction (I’ve got my first novel coming out this year – fifty years ago I couldn’t spell “novelist” and now I are one) the characters acquired lives and wills of their own. There was no need to make them Jewish. They chose it themselves.

Dana, the strong young woman, future brilliant lawyer, who lives comfortably within an authoritarian structure and whose Jewishness means little, if anything to her.

Mullen, another brilliant young person, whose family left Judaism generations before, who has embraced a particular Hellenistic philosophy but who, even now, “retains some curiosity” about Judaism.

Welcome to the next several posts, on a (perhaps) new way of looking at the ancient encounter of the Jews and the Greeks, and why this election reprises an issue that has never been settled. Perhaps it can’t be. But it ought to be.

It’s been a long way from Zeno, son of Menaeus, 3rd century BCE founder of Stoicism and possibly himself of Jewish descent – Menaeus was the Greek version of Menachem – to Bibi and Tzipi and the rest of that underwhelming crew who currently posture as worthy leaders of the nation and the people.

I’ll not be writing about the election per se. I have no partisan affiliation or great ardor for any of the candidates; I claim no inside knowledge or political expertise. Over the decades, I’ve grown thoroughly disgusted with the triviality, ranting, self-serving evasions and smug smarminess that characterize so much of modern allegedly democratic politics.

But I may have something to contribute here, if only as a citizen starved for a little political dignity and seriousness.

If you feel the same, please stay with me for the next two weeks. And if you haven’t read “The Goddess of the Final Play” and have some free time, please do so. Even West Point grads with medals, Combat Infantry Badges, Ranger tabs and master parachutist jump wings get misty.

I first encountered Hellenistic philosophy in the 1980s, through the writings and several conversations with the late US Navy Admiral Jim Stockdale, one of the great heroes of the Hanoi Hilton, where he spent nearly seven years as a guest of the North Vietnamese. My interest expanded when I discovered that professional warriors and feminist philosophy professors were reaching very similar conclusions on how to live. But it was Herman Wouk, beloved novelist and ardent Zionist/ Orthodox Jew, who forced me to a hard look at the connection between the Jews and the Greeks.

As mentioned several weeks ago (if you’re really desperate for something to do, those posts are still available) in 1959 Wouk came out with This Is My God, his explanation and defense of Orthodoxy, a word that derives from the Greek, meaning “straight thinking.” I read it during a period of intense applied Stoicism.

Wouk’s explanation of why Judaism and the Jewish people should survive – in essence, “Stay together for the sake of the rules,” i.e., the Law – left me profoundly dissatisfied. So did his casual, sneering dismissal of the Hellenistic encounter of the Greeks and the Jews.

And I realized that if a man as well-educated and astute as Wouk could make such ghastly errors, more than mere ignorance was involved here. This encounter, arguably the most important of the historically verifiable episodes that formed Judaism, arguably more important than the Roman war, well . . . let’s just say that Zeno, son of Menaeus and his successors might have some useful things to tell us about our present political situation.

To Be Continued.

About the Author
Philip Gold made Aliyah from USA in 2010 after several decades as a Beltway "public intellectual" of sorts.
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