Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Reviving Classical Allusions -- a Herculean Task

So I was sitting in a meeting the other day, where we looking at how to upgrade our website. We were talking about the amount of work it would take to go in and scrub every single page. I said it would be like cleaning the Augean stables -- and was greeted with blank looks.

Oops. I'd made a classical allusion. It would have been a powerful one, too, if everyone had understood it. Unfortunately, all it did was stop the meeting. I had to explain that cleaning the Augean stables was one of the twelve labors of Hercules.

In Greek mythology, King Augeas owned a large herd of divine cattle given him by the gods. Because they were immune to disease, he never bothered having their stables mucked out. Hercules had to clean out these stables in a day -- a seemingly impossible task (yes, there's a backstory). He did so by simply diverted two rivers from their paths to flood the stables and wash away the manure -- well, Herc was pretty strong.

The metaphor of the Augean stables, the size of the task and the way they were cleaned all beautifully illustrated what I had to say about our web project. And that's why I used it.

Was using the metaphor more trouble that it was worth? Not really. A few more people learned about the story, and it's an allusion I'll use again. Consider it a slight step forward for cultural literacy.

And as Aesop once observed, "slow and steady wins the race."

- Ralph

Day 86 of the WJMA Web Watch.

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