Help me find a word for this obscure kind of situation!
December 9, 2007 3:22 PM   Subscribe

Obsessivewordenthusiastfilter: I'm writing a paper and I'm trying to portray a certain situation which I feel would be best conveyed with the use of an allusion, preferably to a Greek or Roman myth. More inside!

So basically I'm talking about the dynamic struggle of one stakeholder who has an interest in improving this situation, but by doing so it also realizes in the long run that by improving this situation and thereby helping those on the very bottom, it may make their position less luxurious and comfortable.

So what I'm trying to find is some kind of phrase that evokes a myth (ie sword of damocles, buridan's ass) that can portray this idea: having difficulty giving something up once you've had a taste of how comfortable/good/beneficial/etc it is to you, even if it involves something to the detriment of another person(s).

I've found something that isn't quite what I'm looking for (shirt of Nessus) but I'm hoping for a phrase that'll nail it. It doesn't have to be Greek or Roman, either. I just figure that's where I'd find it. I found a really nice glossary of words with mythological etymologies, but it's nowhere to be seen.

Thanks in advance!
posted by Lockeownzj00 to Writing & Language (19 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
This doesn't seem like it should be very hard. All you need is a myth where the protagonist makes some sort of sacrifice so that a person / people / the world can succeed / survive."
"He gave of his ____ so that all might _____."
The first ____ is your thing.
posted by Baby_Balrog at 3:27 PM on December 9, 2007

Response by poster: But that's precisely it, I'm talking about a situation where the option to sacrifice exists but people--not necessarily one person, but I guess it could be--are loathe to take the sacrifice because of their position of comfort.

Though I guess I could convey that in a roundabout way with your example. Hell, at this point, I'll try anything, I suppose.
posted by Lockeownzj00 at 3:35 PM on December 9, 2007

The Fever by Wallace Shawn deals with exactly this issue. It perhaps has some mythological allusions in it?
posted by HeroZero at 4:19 PM on December 9, 2007

how about the sacrifice of Iphigenia? It's not exact, but very close - Agamemnon's "position of comfort" in this would be the continued life of his daughter (and subsequent ability to not be murdered by his vengeful, bitter wife). He ultimately decides to go through with the sacrifice to help the "people on the bottom" - i.e. the Greek warriors waiting at Aulis - get the winds needed to sail to Troy and begin the Trojan War.
posted by AthenaPolias at 4:21 PM on December 9, 2007

Do you want a situation where the comfortable person DOES eventually make the sacrifice, or DOESN'T?
posted by LobsterMitten at 4:24 PM on December 9, 2007

If you want to stretch, the situation is loosely related to a Pyrrhic victory in the sense that a success is won but at too high a cost to the victors.

Still thinking about a closer analogy though. I'm 99% sure that Aesop covers this somewhere.
posted by tkolar at 4:25 PM on December 9, 2007

BTW, the poster boy for this kind of "sacrifice my comfort and my life so that everyone else gets raised a bit" would be none other than the Christian Messiah.

The New Testament is chock full of allegories about giving up creature comforts for the greater benefit of mankind.
posted by tkolar at 4:34 PM on December 9, 2007

The ones who walk away from Omelas
posted by MsMolly at 4:53 PM on December 9, 2007

This does sound like the sort of thing that might be found in Aesop's Fables. The Mice in Council is on point (all mice benefit from the belling of the cat, except the mouse who does it), although not exactly supporting the conclusion you seem to be after. :)
posted by aeschenkarnos at 4:56 PM on December 9, 2007

Found it:

Matthew 19.16-22

This leads to the famous Matthew 19:24 "[...]It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for one who is rich to enter the kingdom of God."
posted by tkolar at 5:06 PM on December 9, 2007

Perhaps something alluding to Cincinnatus? Believing it was better for the people to be ruled by an elected Senate, he resisted appeals to make him dictator. When it was clear that the elected officials couldn't protect the city from attacking tribes, he assumed the role. As soon as he could (after beating the attackers), he returned the power to the Senate, returning to a simple life on his farm, giving up the power and glory that could have been his, so that the people could, once again, have an elected leadership.

Not ideal, but less baggage-laden than invoking Jesus, and more direct than some other options.

Also: MsMolly, thanks for that link. Provoking.
posted by Alt F4 at 6:05 PM on December 9, 2007

who has an interest in improving this situation, but by doing so it also realizes in the long run that by improving this situation and thereby helping those on the very bottom, it may make their position less luxurious and comfortable.

The only thing I can think of is not exactly the same. I'm thinking of the tragedy of the commons, where in the long term it's best if everyone gives one's due but in the short run it's easier to take advantage of others. Perhaps you could use footnote 3/4 by Thucidides/Aristotle?

Sorry for not having something 100%.
posted by ersatz at 6:09 PM on December 9, 2007

It is hard for Agamemnon to give up Briseis; it is hard for Achilles to leave his tent.
posted by ormondsacker at 6:37 PM on December 9, 2007

What about the Israelites in the desert for 40 years? They wanted to go back to the relative comfort of their lives in Egypt, even though they were enslaved there.
posted by clh at 7:04 PM on December 9, 2007

What about Aeneas deciding to forsake Dido?
posted by booksandlibretti at 7:07 PM on December 9, 2007

what about the dwarves not being ready to give up snow white when she is encased in the glass coffin or in sleeping beauty where the godmothers are not willing to extend invitations to the christening to everyone or what about the catcher in the rye (song and novel) where he wants to catch the falling children who may or may not want to be caught. what about that flannery o'connor story, a good man is hard to find? the grandmother wants to save everyone but the family doesn't make it out alive. what about no country for old men by cormac mccarthy? there is a punishment that comes with salvation.
posted by nparkerlawrence at 7:32 PM on December 9, 2007

What about the story of Kandata and the Spider's Thread?

In summary, Buddha offers a spider's thread to a sinner, Kandata, so he can climb out of hell. As Kandata climbs up the thread he notices that the rest of the sinners in hell are climbing up after him to escape to heaven, too. However, only worried about his escape he yells at the others to stop so they don't break the thread. With his unkind words the thread severs and he is cast back into hell. Had he been willing to share, he and all of the other sinners would have made it to heaven.
posted by Alison at 9:17 PM on December 9, 2007 [1 favorite]

It's not quite the same, but it's a general way of thinking about it...

Like leaving Nausicaa hoping that Penelope's still waiting.
posted by Kattullus at 12:02 AM on December 10, 2007

Prometheus stealing fire from the gods to help mortals. Even if he hadn't been punished by Zeus, his status as a god will go down by giving power to humans.
posted by happyturtle at 5:20 AM on December 10, 2007

« Older Please recommend movies about making movies.   |   I regret to inform you... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.