By Victor Davis Hanson
According to Greek myth, the Athenian hero Theseus sailed to Crete to stop the tribute of seven Athenian men and seven women sent every nine years to the distant carnivorous Minotaur in his haunt within the labyrinth beneath the palace of Knossos on Crete.
In various versions of the prehistorical myth, the Athenian King Aegeus had conceded earlier to the attacking Cretan King Minos to surrender the youths as tribute to prevent a wider war. Then his heroic son Theseus came of age and volunteered to stop the scripted slaughter, sailing to Crete, where he slew the Minotaur. And that was that.
The idea of harvesting people as part of some strange protocol to preclude a wider, far more destructive war is to not unknown in both history and popular myth.
Many of the thousands of human victims sacrificed to the various hungry gods of the Aztecs such as Huitzilopochtli and Tezcatlipoca often were delivered as a sort of human tribute forced from neighboring conquered cities and tribes. The subdued assumed that paying the smaller human toll was cheaper than waging a far bloodier and likely futile revolt against the Aztec Empire—at least until the arrival of Hernan Cortes and his conquistadors in 1519, who found restive conquered peoples eager for revolt, largely on promises to overthrow the Aztecs and stop their collection of human tribute.
A half-century ago, in the 1967 Star Trek episode “A Taste of Armageddon,” the starship Enterprise visits an imaginary planet Eminiar II, that was engaged in an existential—but virtual—war with the neighboring planet Vendikar. To avoid full-scale Armageddon, both sides far earlier had agreed to wage a computer-simulated war, in which electronically projected losses were reified by ordering selected “fatalities” to report to “disintegration” chambers—TV-land’s version of the Minotaur myth—to avoid a larger (and real) war. Captain Kirk plays a role somewhat analogous to Theseus and puts an end to the nightmarish nonsense.
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