Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Gold and Wars

The Golden Apple Affair

Hera, wife of the god Zeus, Aphrodite the goddess of love, and Athena, goddess of wisdom all were involved in the Golden Apple Affair. Eris, the goddess of strife, not invited to a wedding atop Mount Olympus, the home of the gods and goddesses, threw a golden apple into the wedding party and the quarrel began among the three goddesses. The apple was inscribed, FOR THE FAIREST, and of course each goddess assumed she was it. Zeus, afraid to rule in the squabble, sought an impartial judge and chose Paris, son of King Priam of Troy. Attempting to bias Paris, Athena promised that she would make him a renowned warrior if she received the apple. Queen Hera assured him she would make him a very wealthy and powerful man. Last, more cunning than the other two, Aprodite lured Paris with her promise of rewarding him with the most beautiful woman in the world. The Trojan War was the result after Paris accepted Aphrodite's gift and escaped with Helen, the beautiful wife of King Menelaus. They sailed to his home, the city of Troy. The rest of the story, you probably know, Homer told in the Illiad and the Odessey.

"Gold. The word itself is as malleable as the metal it names---an explosion of sound, or a long, drawn-out song of ambition and greed. It resonates in a way that few others words that describe precious things do.

Gold is, in large part, what initiated the conquest of the Western Hemisphere by inhabitants from the East, as Spanish conquistadors roamed Central and South America in search of a place they called 'El Dorado,' a city made of gold. They believed such a place existed because they were continually finding inhabitants of these lands bedecked with objects that seemed to capture and hold the very light of the sun.

Jeffrey Quilter, a senior lecturer in anthropology at Harvard University and director of Yale's Peabody Museum, writes on the sophistication of metalwork in pre-Columbian America. He states: 'The attribution of vanue to gold is a fiction, a social construct. The metal has very little essential or practical use in sustaining human life. In contemporary societies, gold bestows social status through its monetary value. In ancient societies, status derived from gold jewelry came from its association with the sacred, with the light of the sun.

John Hoopes, director of the Global Indigenous Nations Studies Program at the University of Kansas, writes that the search for gold in the Americas not only left indelible marks on the Western Hemisphere, but also affected the history of Europe.

Gold from the New World obtained through plunder, looting and forced labor, would be transported to Europe to help pay off ever-increasing debts by such entities as Charles V*, who found ways to finance the creation of an army through the promise to his lenders of a continued flow of precious metal from the New World.

Hernan Cortes is quoted as saying that money was "made of air," as the treasure-laden ships from the New World would be quickly emptied of their stores which were then sent to pay off various national debts. Goldwork from the New World played a glittering role in events unfolding in the first decade of the Modern Age, from Christian Europe's struggle to avoid Ottoman control of the emergence of the modern banking industry of the 16th century whose legacy is still very much with us today."

This wonderful recap of humans' fascination with gold is from an article written by James D. Watts Jr. for the Tulsa World recently. His comments were based from the publication To Capture the Sun: Gold of Ancient Panama, published by Gilcrease/University of Oklahoma Press.
*Charles V of Spain was the grandson of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain, Columbus' patrons for his trips to the New World. Charles served as the Holy Roman Emperor 1516-1556. He abdicated and eventually spent the remainder of his life in a monastery.

1 comment:

  1. See the prior post for pictures of Charles V of Spain who paid for his wars with gold taken from the New World.