During the talk, one of Professor O’Neill’s statements really stood out to me, “Nowadays, when you cut down a tree, you get wood. Then, you had a dead nymph.” It’s such a matter-of-fact little statement, and yet includes an idea that sounds quite absurd to us. I do not know enough about ancient Greek culture to know how much the average person really believed in or thought about wood nymphs, or how much the idea bothered the average ancient woodcutter. As a member of Colby’s woodsmen team, of course the statement caught my attention. I do not generally give much thought to where the wood for our splitting, chopping, and sawing comes from (although I do know that after we stack it it will eventually all be used in fires, our own or other people’s). Maybe I could stand to give a little bit more thought. Perhaps worrying about the well-being of wood nymphs acted as a check on wasting the wood needed for fires, building, etc.
Another thing that he mentioned in the course of his talk was that the Greeks, like 17th century Europeans, romanticized the pastoral life. For example, their art showed images of people gathering olives and ploughing with oxen. While the ancient Greeks, like ancient people everywhere, were on a daily basis less removed from nature than we mostly are today, it is evident from spell instructions found and from the various references to magic in Greek poetry and stories, that the idea of wanting to overrule nature was still present. Trying to change people’s will through vodoo-like dolls seems like a kind of attempt to circumvent the natural order of things, as well as an attack on other people’s basic autonomy.