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An Ode to Conscience
Aidos and Nemesis to the rescue
I was pleasantly surprised this week when it turned out that shame (the topic of Timeless & Timely this week) turned out to be popular. I wouldn’t have predicted that.
So digging a little deeper into the history of shame, I went back to my roots in the classics.
Aidos was the Greek goddess of shame, modesty, respect, and humility. She was a companion of the goddess Nemesis.
As a quality, aidos was the feeling of shame that restrains people from doing wrong, while nemesis was righteous indignation aroused by the sight of those receiving undeserved good fortune.
It also represented the shame a rich person might feel in the presence of the poor: that their disparity of wealth, whether a matter of luck or merit, was ultimately undeserved.
Ancient Greeks had to take care not to become arrogant, as Nemesis was standing by, ready to enact retribution on those who exhibited hubris in the face of the gods.
It wasn’t a concept unique to the Greeks, either. Ancient and Christian humility share common themes: they both reject egotism, self-centeredness, arrogance, and excessive pride; they also recognize human limitations.
Once again, we find ourselves touching upon self-awareness and conscience. It seemed the perfect opportunity to share Edgar Guest’s poem “Myself.”
I have to live with myself and so
I want to be fit for myself to know.
I want to be able as days go by,
always to look myself straight in the eye…
I want to go out with my head erect
I want to deserve all men’s respect;
but here in the struggle for fame and wealth
I want to be able to like myself.
I don’t want to look at myself and know that
I am… bluff and empty show.
I never can hide myself from me;
I see what others may never see;
I know what others may never know,
I never can fool myself and so,
whatever happens I want to be
self respecting and conscience free.
Have a great weekend. I’ll see you next week on the internet.