Hello readers and welcome to my blog in July 2021. Half of 2021 is already gone by and there seems to be little respite from the Covid pandemic. While the vaccinations are on in full swing, the pace seems to be wanting. Besides, many countries haven’t even received enough doses of the vaccine to start their vaccination drives in earnest. And the world – not merely India – has to also deal with the Delta variant.
In the middle of all this, there seems to be vaccine nationalism as well as vaccine hesitancy. Not to mention political rivalry between leaders. And there is definitely tension between going back to offices and newer ways of working. Enough then, to create conflict where there ought to be consensus and cooperation.
I have therefore chosen to base this month’s Ovid in the Time of Covid post on the story of Pentheus from Ovid’s Metamorphoses. It deals with the subject of rivalry between Pentheus from Thebes and Dionysus (Bacchus) and how their conflict leads to Pentheus’s death by accident at the hands of his own mother.
The middle kingdom from where the pandemic began
Celebrates a hundred glorious years of its party
While the rest of the world reels as the virus fans
In successive waves, as it proves to be too crafty.
The country is back on its feet again, and trade
Too is healthy with demand soaring
The growth is real and unlikely to fade
While debt too is growing.
Elsewhere too, countries are once again opening
Their doors and stepping out
While they also welcome those travelling
Vaccinated and unlikely to catch a new bout
This has caused many a conflict between
The vaccinated and those in line
The leaders and the largely unseen
The unwell and those fine.
“For thee well were it, that thine eyes as mine were dark,
So never might’st thou Bacchus’ mystic rite
Behold! The day will come—nor distant long—
When a new guest shall visit thee, the son
Of Semele, great Liber whom with fame
And honour due receive, or, piecemeal torn
I see thy scattered limbs; these woodland shades,
Thy mother’s self, and all her sisters, red
And reeking with thy gore! Thou hear’st thy fate!
For well I know thy madness will deny
The Deity his right. But, in that hour,
Remember how a Seer, though blind, could see!”
– The Story of Pentheus from Ovid’s Metamorphoses Book III, Lines 622-633
In India, the numbers of cases are on the rise
With our large population, it is to be expected
With new daily cases at 50,000 is it any surprise
That the virus is nowhere near defeated.
In fact, more vaccines are needed than
Manufacturers can supply
It is not a question of if, but when
The vaccination rate will fly.
Like it has in several other countries
From Israel and US to UK and Europe
Helping them relax the travel freeze
Bringing millions new hope.
However, conflict continues to rumble
Between political leaders of various stripe
Those who don’t want covid mandates grumble
While others shrug off those not their type.
“Time proved his truth, and what he spake fulfilled.
For Liber comes, foretold. With festal mirth
Of thronging crowds the fields resounds, the press
Still thickens : wife and maiden, man and boy,
Noble and churl, in those new rites to share,
All emulous and eager. “Hold!” the voice
Of Pentheus shouts, “what madness thus, what rage “
Misleads you, you from that old Snake who sprang
Warriors from birth?”
– The Story of Pentheus from Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Book III, Lines 636-644
There are serious matters to do with work
About returning to the office or not
Companies keen to retain their work culture
And those who don’t give a jot.
Women who have lost their jobs or else
Had to stay home for their children’s sake
With schools and colleges shut
There is simply too much at stake.
The numbers of unemployed are rising
While employers can’t find people
They need, and if that’s not surprising
There is the digital technology pull
Meanwhile the virus lingers
Long enough to keep people worried
It attacks when one least expects it
Vaccination, it has to be hurried.
“There Pentheus stood,
And with unholy eye upon the rite
Mysterious gazed. Agave’s glance was first
To mark him: first, with frenzy fired her hand
The thyrsus whirled, and, by a mother’s blow
First wounded bled the son! “Io!” she yelled,
“Io! help, sisters both! The Boar is here
That wastes our fields! Help me the boar to slay!”
With answering yell around him swarms the band
Shrieking and striking!
… Yet still he rears his trunk dismembered
“See,” Mother! “he shrieks, “’tis I, thy son!”
… Whirls scattered, so his body, limb from limb,
By that mad rout lay piecemeal rent and torn.
So, by that lesson taught, the maids of Thebes
The might of Bacchus learned, till now unknown,
And on his altars smoked their incense due.
– The Story of Pentheus from Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Book III, Lines 849-880
Last year saw one big election that
Changed the way the US saw the pandemic
This year others face similar tests
Nothing can be taken for granted
As leaders fight over political futures
And the legacy they leave behind
It is the people, tired, wounded and sutured
Who must elect the best they can find.