I find myself stumped as to what to say about ‘ideas of success in antiquity’ on live radio next Wednesday night at 2200 pm. I've been invited to help mark the 50th anniversary of a famous BBC radio broadcast when ‘the nature of success in contemporary society’ was discussed by an (of course all white male) team: one hero of mine—the Marxist intellectual & art historian John Berger—the self-appointed pontificator Malcolm Muggeridge, and actor Michael Redgrave. I dread to think which one I am supposed to be the substitute for.
But that is not how the word is generally used. A man (and this is gendered) is a ‘success’ if he has wads of cash, a luxury home, a prestige-brand car and can buy/marry high-value sexual partners. In ancient Greek thought, people who accumulated money and the concomitant access to unlimited physical pleasures were often very far from ‘successes’ if their lives were taken in the round: Midas’ obsession with gold resulted in death from starvation; the fabulously wealthy Croesus of Lydia, far from being the happiest man in the world, as he believed, lost his son, his wife and his kingdom.
So please help! Is there anyone out there who can help me with a ‘faithful’ translation of SUCCESS into an ancient Greek concept, or think of a classical myth, hero, text, historical figure who could illuminate the idea of SUCCESS for a 21st-century audience? I will be eternally grateful!