“Travel between the extremes.”

Nearly everybody is familiar with the myth of Icarus, the youth who flew too close to the sun on man-made wings and plunged into the sea when the heat caused the wings to fail. I just typed “flew to” into Google and the first auto-complete suggestion was “flew too close to the sun”. That is a real testament to how thoroughly ingrained the story of Icarus is in our culture. Even more evidence of how deep this story is embedded in our collective consciousness is the way that Icarus appears in pop culture. When George Constanza on Seinfeld got dumped because he brought a cold cut sandwich into bed, he told Jerry that he “flew too close to the sun on wings of pastrami.”

The lesson of the story seems obvious; Icarus fell because he overreached. If he had only been more cautious, he would not have crashed into the sea and drowned. But “don’t fly too high” is only part of the moral. In Ovid’s retelling of the ancient myth, Icarus’s father Daedalus warned about flying too high but also about flying too low. Flying too close to the sun would scorch the wings, but flying too close to the sea would weigh them down with moisture. “Take the middle way,” he cautioned, “Travel between the extremes.” With that advice, the story really appears to be about moderation. And moderation happens to be a popular topic on this blog.

The dangers of being immoderate are especially acute as we move into Lent. On one hand, there is Mardi Gras, during which many people engage in all manner of excess. (Like that one Fasnacht Day that I ate an entire box of donuts.)  If the reports are true, there are a few cities that really go to extremes. But the excesses of Fat Tuesday are followed by the austerity of Ash Wednesday and Lent. As I have pointed out before, abstention is immoderate. There is certainly value in giving up something for Lent as a way to focus on what really matters. But focusing on the abstention itself is just another kind of excess. So if you are going to give something up for Lent make sure that you apply yourself to ordering your soul and don’t dwell on the thing that you are missing.

Beer of the Week: Mythos – Sometimes the beers I review have nothing to do with the reading. This time, however, is an obvious slam dunk. From the time I saw Mythos on the shelf, I knew that I’d have to read Ovid. The can informs us that Mythos is “the World’s Most Famous Hellenic Beer.” Of course since Greece is not exactly known for its beer, this honor is not quite as impressive as it could be. This pale lager has a pleasant aroma that is somewhat malty. The flavor is understated, with some light grass notes and a bit of lingering hop oil in the finish. It is primarily a good beer for quenching thirst since it goes down like water. As a light, drinking beer, there is nothing wrong with it. It is not exactly mythical in quality, but it is appropriate for a sunny Mediterranean beach.

Reading of the week: Metamorphoses by Ovid, Bk VIII:183-235 – There was a time when every educated American was well acquainted with Ovid. Unfortunately this has  changed considerably. As noted above, the stories are still part of our culture but their origin is not known by most people. I mentioned that “flew too close to the sun” came up right away on Google. What I didn’t mention is that most of the results for that search were “who flew too close to the sun?” The underlying story is there, but the details are mostly forgotten.

Question of the week: What is the most that you could give up without dwelling on the loss?