One night last week, when I was watching what must have been the 500th recounting of the Casey Anthony trial, I suddenly recalled my favorite subject to teach in college — Greek mythology. At first, I wasn’t certain about the connection, but as I listened to Nancy Grace and her tribunal of experts rage and whine while images of luckless little Caylee and her foolish mother flowed across the screen, I suddenly remembered the Furies.
If I remember my Edith Hamilton’s Mythology correctly, the Furies were a host of invisible tormentors that the gods sent to torment mortals who had committed unforgivable crimes ... patricide or infanticide, for example. The immortal Furies pursued their victims for the remainder of their mortal lives, lashing them with whips and relentlessly whispering their sins in their ears.
The marks of the whip caused the victim to age rapidly, and, the victims were troubled by sleepless nights. Of course, this “divine punishment” was an imaginative way of describing the torments of a guilty conscious.
Now, as I watch Casey Anthony flee the Orange County courthouse (again) amid shouts of “Baby Killer” and “Justice for Caylee,” I am struck by similarities to the ancient Furies. Is it possible that our modern equivalent of the Furies resides in those angry citizens who are waving placards in Orlando and Jacksonville? Does a Fury reside in Nancy Grace? As Casey, runs towards a car that will spirit her away to safety, does she hear the shouts? Does she flinch as though struck by an invisible whip?
I’m getting carried away here but I can’t help it. I love good theater, even when it is dispensed by CNN instead of Netflex. Besides, I am suddenly reminded of O.J., who like one of those doomed Greek heroes was first blessed and then cursed by the gods. When I see him now, overweight, getting a bit flabby, with that sheepish grin (like the cat that ate the canary), I get the distinct feeling that O. J. didn’t get away with anything. He will live out the remainder of his life with his crime branded on his forehead.
I liked my theory about the Furies so much, I told a friend of mine about it. He didn’t agree. He said that O. J. and Casey lacked nobility. In effect, he said that their lives were too petty and trivial. Certainly, they didn’t deserve a punishment as awe-inspiring of the wrath of the gods. In other words, only arrogant kings or immoral queens deserved to be tormented by the Furies. Only the chosen have the depth of soul to be guilty of hubris.
Well, I thought about that and I don’t agree. I remember what that grand old expert on living and dead religions, Joseph Campbell, said about those mythical heroes and heroines. He recalled having seen Oedipus boarding a New York subway, Helen of Troy shopping on 5th Avenue, or perhaps Odysseus getting out of a taxi on Broadway. He said that all of the great stories are a kind of template that is destined to be repeated for all eternity.
Today, the great tales are not the sole property of royalty, but belong to all of us. Tristram may be a dishwasher in a Greek restaurant where Iseult is a waitress. Achilles may be a pro-Nazi skinhead in London and Orpheus may be in Nashville where he just released his first CD.
Campbell felt that the petty, mean-spirited, cruel — as well as the gentle, faithful and compassionate — might reenact a story that has been told and then forgotten numerous times. None of them are noble, but they might acquire something akin to nobility by suffering. In other words, selfish, dissembling Casey Anthony may be granted forgiveness at some point in the future. In the tragic story of Oedipus, the old, blind king is only forgiven when he is dying. Then the Furies become his comforters and grant him peace.
So, I am wondering about those who escape earthly justice, evade prison and rush off to complete book/film script deals and become some kind of shady celebrity who is occasionally exhibited like an exotic reptile on TV talk shows ... is that “success in show business” possibly deceptive? What is it like spending the rest of your life knowing what people think when they see you? Does O. J. feel that he really got away with something? Is he not painfully aware that there are places where he can never go again? As for Casey, what is your freedom worth if you must hide?
There is a marvelous way to end this ordeal, both for Casey and O. J. They need to confess. Neither can be arrested or imprisoned again. What if Casey Anthony confessed to David Letterman, sitting right there on the guest couch between say .... maybe Madonna and Elton John? What if O. J. confessed to Oprah? What if those confessions were rerun for a solid month like a mobius strip? How would you feel about these two sinners? Would you forgive them? Would the Furies disappear?