According to Greek mythology, Tantalus, the king of Tantalis, was one of the few mortals to be invited by the Olympians to their sitting. The sittings were for dining, wining and council discussions. However, greed ruined Tantalus relationship with the gods. It is in one of these sitting that he provoked the Olympians by allowing greed to rule over him. Tantalus is said to have stolen nectar and ambrosia, a drink and food meant for the gods alone. He quickly brought the delicacies to his kingdom to share with fellow mortals.
As a punishment, the gods threw Tantalus in the Underworld. There was a lake with a dangerous rock right above Tantalus. The lake was full of water but he could not drink of it as it dried every moment he would bend to drink. Around him were trees with succulent fruits but every time he tried to access one, a strong wind blew away the trees. With each passing time, Tantalus starved and became terrified. With this, you can tell the origin of the phrase, ‘to tantalize’.
Hesiod on greed
Hesiod was a great Ancient Greek poet. Historians say that only two of his complete epics remain. These two are Theogony and Works and Days. Hesiod flourished around 700BC. In one of the epics, Works and Days, Hesiod wrote, “Wealth should not be seized: god-given wealth is much better; for if a man takes great wealth violently and perforce, or if he steals it through his tongue, as often happens when gain deceives men’s sense and dishonor tramples down the honour, the gods soon blot him out and make that man’s house low, and wealth attends him only for a little time.”
The demon of greed
Greed has a way of shattering dreams, destinies and lives, not just in mythologies, fantasies but in real life too. The effects of greedy are not only felt by the perpetrators but others too. Greed gives birth to corruption. Corruption begets economical, social and political morass. The ramifications of greed cannot be gainsaid.
We will always continue to struggle and scramble for position in lower rungs of the United Nations Human Development Index as long as we are still keeping this demon in our bosom. Why should we eat what we didn’t cook? Why should we harvest what we didn’t plant? Why should we take bribe before we render services? Why should we intimidate, coerce, threaten and harass fellow humans in the name of ‘creating wealth’ for ourselves? For how long are we going to condone the culture of greed?
Gehazi is a character in the Holy Bible who typifies the spirit of greed (2 Kings 5). Consumed with greediness, Gehazi reaps big in silver and leprosy. Greedy never walks alone. It is constantly in the company of dishonesty and selfishness.
The Israelites lived in Egypt for 430 years. During this time, they tasted every bitter fruit of slavery, hard labour, deaths and diseases. At an appointed time, they left Egypt. The journey to the Promised Land had begun. The crossing of the Red Sea was epic. Immediately after the miraculous escape from Egypt and the parting of the Red Sea, the Israelites came face to face with new challenges. They immediately forgot about the dark past and miraculous deliverance and in its place started complaining. Complaining became their preoccupation. Come on! I thought life in slavery is worse than walking in a desert as free men and women, and under the direction of a God who is omnipotent!
Godliness with contentment is great gain
They wanted more than what God was already providing. Greedy had set in and it didn’t take long before it destroyed them. That is how we behave. God blesses us with githeri and before even we swallow it we are already saying ‘I wish it was pizza’. This kind of absorption is a sign of greed. When are we going to be happy and thankful? If nothing has ever made you happy and contented, then nothing will ever do.
Socrates, the philosopher from ancient Athens and arguably the true father of western thought, got it right when he said, “He who is not contented with what he has, would not be contented with what he would like to have.”