A monster that devours itself: a capitalist’s parable?

Erisychton (Er-is-ya-thon), according to Ovid’s tales from Greek mythology was a wealthy timber merchant and Thessalian King.  He was a greedy man who thought only about profit.  To him, nothing was sacred.  The goddess Demeter had a sacred grove with a special tree beloved by the gods.  Prayers of the faithful were tied to the tree branches and holy spirits would dance  round its magnificent trunk.  This meant nothing to Erisychton, all he cared about when he saw a tree was the volume of timber it would produce.  Against all protests, he takes an axe to the sacred grove and he chops until the trees fell and the divine life that inhabited the grove had fled.  So Demeter put a curse on Erisychton for his greed, from that day forward he would be consumed by an insatiable hunger.  He began to eat all his stores; when that was finished he turned his wealth into food and consumed that as well.  Driven by his insatiable hunger he ends up consuming his wife and children, and in the end, with nothing else left he consumes his own flesh.

Of a monster no longer a man. And so,

At last, the inevitable.

He began to savage his own limbs.

And there, at a final feast, devoured himself.

(Ted Hughes. Tales from Ovid)

To me this is an excellent symbol of modern organisations that have lost their sense of a higher purpose and exist only to make a profit.

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4 thoughts on “A monster that devours itself: a capitalist’s parable?

  1. Erysichton may have met an untimely end, and had it coming, but his investors were quite pleased with their return on investment 😉 .

    Erysichthon “consumed” his daughter, not by eating her, but by selling her into slavery. Neptune took pity on her, and allowed her to shape-change to escape. But once her father learned that she had this ability, he sold her again and again, knowing that she would escape, and using the proceeds to feed his own hunger.

  2. Tim, that paints an even more grim picture of Erysichton’s ethics! I like the image of the two snakes eating each other’s tails … makes me wonder who the second snake would represent?

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