It’s not that easy being green Richard Armitage…

Or blue for that matter.   I have been unusually melancholy for the last week or so.  Things that normally roll off me are really bugging me, things I usually want to do I’ve been putting off.  I do believe I’m having a rather mild case of the “midlife crisis.”   Although I may be a little young, (after all, my paternal grandmother lived to be 101, and her father 105) sometimes I can’t help but feel that my life is passing me by.  I had this really terrifying moment last week when I realized that decisions that I made fifteen or twenty years ago really do have the potential to define the course of my life.  A thought that some things, at least for the moment, in the current state of affairs, are set in stone.

Coupled with that revelation was a flare up of the terminal “bein’ green” syndrome Kermit describes.  A fear of not being special, of being always overlooked…of not being red or purple or some other color.  Basically, a fear of being me and not being enough for anyone or anything.   I think everyone goes through times like this…usually I shake it off and move along, but this particular flare has been stubbornly hanging around.  The impending shift from summer to fall only seemed to make it worse, but then something interesting happened…

I wonder if it's a coincidence that my vertigo returned shortly after seeing the film?

I wonder if it’s a coincidence that my vertigo returned shortly after seeing the film?

First, I went Into the Storm (account of our encounter is forthcoming) over the holiday weekend with my oldest and we had a great time.  It was his suggestion – he who calls me an “uncultured troglodyte” because I am not conversant in musical theater – you could have knocked me over with a feather!  Actually, he has become a bit of a sounding board for me on fandom related business…we have a sort of quid pro quo arrangement.  He will listen to me blather about Armitage related topics in return for having a live audience to relate the latest Dragon Age on dit to.  Although I now know waaaay more I need to know about the pending release of Dragon Age: Inquisition, and the resultant raging in the DA fandom (and also that Henry Cavill is a DA fanboy), the trade off is that my 16 year old seeks *me* out to chat!

Secondly, having come down with a head cold (which is probably more to blame for the vertigo than ITS 🙂  ) I was feeling pretty lousy Wednesday morning when I opened my email to find this from a friend who was in London:

email

I’ve been excited to see each and every account that has come in from people who’ve seen The Crucible in London, whether they were posted by strangers or good friends, but I’d be a giant liar if I didn’t admit that I’ve also been a little sad in spots that I’ll not be able to see what so many have described as a “must see” performance.   Even so, it brought a smile to my face and a tear to my eye to think that my friend would be bringing me along, if only in spirit!

So goes the mood altering mojo of a little Armitageworld intervention!  It also did not hurt to read the accounts of Monday evening’s Conversation in which Richard Armitage recounts a certain amount of trepidation at taking the role of John Proctor in the first place, and doubts in the midst of the run if he could continue to rise to the challenge again and again.

I don't think I'll ever get tired of this picture! Photo by Jay Brooks for The Crucible at The Old Vic

I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of this picture!
Photo by Jay Brooks for The Crucible at The Old Vic

He did take the role, he can do it, he does power through it performance after performance and he has apparently come to the realization that he’s not afraid anymore. That is something I need to consider.  Things that I thought were immutable…maybe not.  Maybe it’s just fear that’s stopping me from taking steps to move the stone.

Richard Armitage and the Quest for Arete: Hubris or Sophrosyne?

I’ve been thinking a lot about Richard Armitage lately…I know, shocking revelation right?!  Specifically, I’ve been thinking about him in the context of several ideas that were first articulated to me in the spring of 1988, though they were active long before that in my life.  I was completing my sophomore year in college and was being inducted into the Phi Beta Kappa Society chapter at my university.  I don’t remember a lot of the events – I do remember that I was  proud to be one of the youngest students being inducted (thanks to high school classes in Latin and English which had been accepted for university credit.)  I’m a lifelong academic nerd – what can I say?   I wouldn’t be able to identify the keynote  speaker if my life depended on it, with the exception of recalling that she was a she, but I have never forgotten the gist of her message.  She talked to us about the ancient Greek concepts of Areté  (ἀρετή) and Hubris (ὕβρις).   Her premise was that the quest for areté, defined as excellence, or being the best that you can be, was central not only to the Greeks, but was still at play in the contemporary world.  We should all strive to do the best we can at whatever task is in front of us…excellence is often it’s own reward, she argued.  The problem is, she went on, that the downside to those who achieve areté is a potential for hubris, excessive pride or arrogance.  In English idiom, hubris is perhaps best captured in the warning, “pride goeth before a fall.”   Although I seriously doubt my 19 year old brain put it together at the time, she was clearly congratulating us for our achievement, encouraging us to continue striving for areté, but at the same time,  cautioning us against the dangers of hubris.

This balancing act between the quest for areté and the avoidance of hubris was a defining ideal for the ancient Greeks on a day to day basis.  Numerous Greek authors mention a concept known as the Golden Mean, but I think my favorite discussion of this idea appears in the Niomachaean Ethics by Aristotle where he talks about the need to achieve balance in all things.  Aristotle argues that either too much or too little of anything is bad.  For instance, too little bravery leads to  cowardice, too much bravery to recklessness.  The best place to be is at a balance between the extremes.  To the Greeks, this balance was summed up in the word σωφροσύνη (sophrosyne – so-fro-soo-nee in English).

Greek myth is littered with cautionary tales of humans whose hubris was so great that it offended the gods.  I told you the story of Niobe’s hubris last week, but she was certainly not alone in myth.   Characters like Actaeon, Pasiphae, Daedalus and Icarus and Phaethon also suffered for their hubris.   On a daily basis though,  hubris was a human failing that affected not the gods, but other humans.  I doubt that I am alone in occasionally wishing comeuppance on some particularly arrogant person who crosses my path.  As it happens, the Greeks had a goddess for that!  The job of the goddess Nemesis was to deliver divine retribution, literally, “to deliver what was due” to humans.  Those who practiced sophrosyne had nothing to fear from Nemesis, but there was no escaping her if one was hubristic.

Nemesis, Roman marble from Egypt, 2nd century AD (Louvre)  Source:  Wikimedia Commons

Nemesis, Roman marble from Egypt, 2nd century AD (Louvre)
Source: Wikimedia Commons

It is clear to me that Richard Armitage is constantly striving for areté.  From the remarks that he has made himself, to the comments made by his past and current colleagues, his commitment to achieving excellence in his craft is notable.  It is something that has drawn and held the attention of many a fan over the years.  Hubris?   I don’t think Richard Armitage has much to fear from Nemesis on this score.  He seems to embrace the concept of sophrosyne –temperance, moderation – in his approach to the accolades that have come his way….if anything, he may lean to the modesty side a bit too  much sometimes.

Source:  the-hobbit.tumblr.com

Source: the-hobbit.tumblr.com

I mean seriously, who could accuse this guy of hubris?!