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Hello, Hurricane “Peace”

Today around Waging Nonviolence headquarters in Brooklyn, everyone seems to be rushing around getting ready for Hurricane Irene. She has struck North Carolina and is heading up our way. Lines of people are snaking through the grocery stores with bags full of canned goods. The subway is already shut down in preparation for the storm surge. National Guard troops have been deployed. We’re keeping an eye on the news and hoping that those south of us are bearing the fury okay.

WNV contributor Mary King pointed out to me yesterday that Irene’s name might not be quite appropriate for a hurricane. It is derived from the Greek εἰρήνη (eiréné), which means “peace.” It turns out, therefore, that so much of what we do on this site is actually “irenology”—the study of peace.

Eirene and Ploutos. Roman marble copy of bronze votive statue by Cephisodotus the Elder, now in the Glyptothek, Munich.

Eirene, the goddess of peace, was among the three Horai, along with Eunomia (Order) and Dike (Justice), and statues of her normally depict her holding the baby Ploutos (Wealth)—the peace dividend. She also represented the season of Spring. The playwright Euripides, in The Suppliants, speaks of her this way:

How far peace outweighs war in benefits to man; Eirene (Irene, Peace), the chief friend and cherisher of the Mousai (Muses); Eirene (Peace), the enemy of revenge, lover of families and children, patroness of wealth. Yet these blessings we viciously neglect, embrace wars; man with man, city with city fights, the strong enslaves the weak.

And Aeschylus:

Then Eirene (Irene, Peace) is … ((lacuna)) for mortals. And I praise this goddess; for she honours a city that reposes in a life of quiet, and augments the admired beauty of its houses, so that they surpass in prosperity the neighbours who are their rivals), nor yet to engender it. And they earnestly desire land for ploughing, abandoning the martial trumpet.

Reading some about how the Greeks thought of Eirene, I’m reminded of how backwards so many modern societies have it these days. Too often, war is thought of as a means to prosperity, a better investment than health care, or care for the environment, or infrastructure. We let our economies become addicted to building weapons, and, when the system begins to crash, we wonder what happened to our wealth.

The Greeks knew better.