As the Age of Materialism (1832-1914) matured, humankind fell slowly out of love with gold. Societies grew less religious, and critics of the gold standard smeared gold’s advocates. It was an obsession, they said, a superstitious worship of the ancients.
The 19th century US Congressman Ignatius Donnelly called advocacy of the gold standard “the last remnants of sun worship”. The economist John Maynard Keynes put it in the “realms of sex and religion”, a “furtive Freudian cloak”, while Freud himself related fascination with gold to the erotic fantasies and interests of early childhood.
The Bible mentions gold more than 400 times. Gold was wealth. Gold was money. Gold was from God. We drink the blood of Christ from a golden chalice to represent the chalice used to serve wine at the Last Supper. In Arthurian legend, the Holy Grail was a symbol of God’s grace.
In Ancient myth, gold did not just represent purity and truth. The lust gold inspires wrought chaos: ambition, desire, greed for wealth and power. And the moral of many a fable derives from the terrible decisions that people consumed with such emotions can make. But, gold standard or not, the same motivations that drive these ancient narratives are alive and well today.
Zeus held a banquet on Mount Olympus, a huge banquet, and all the gods were invited. All except one – Eris, Goddess of Chaos.
Eris was upset by the snub and, in retaliation, threw a golden apple into the party. She had inscribed the word “Kallisti” onto the apple. It means “for the most beautiful”.
Immediately, the goddesses Hera, Athena and Aphrodite began to quarrel. Each felt they should have the apple, for they were most beautiful. It fell to Zeus himself to pass judgement. Who should he choose? Hera, his wife, the queen of the gods? Athena, his daughter, the goddess of wisdom and warfare? Or Aphrodite, his other daughter, goddess of beauty, love and pleasure?
What a predicament. Whoever Zeus chose, he would incur the wrath of the other two.
So, instead, he nominated the Trojan prince, Paris, to decide. So the goddesses were led to Paris on a mountainside, each to make their case.
The goddesses undressed, bathed and then appeared each in turn before Paris, naked (perhaps at his request) in a kind of divine lap dance. But still Paris could not decide. So the goddesses tried to bribe him.
Hera offered Paris power: control of all Europe and Asia. Athena offered him wisdom and victory in battle. Aphrodite offered him the love of the most beautiful woman on earth.
Paris chose Aphrodite.
The most beautiful woman on earth was, of course, Helen – Helen of Sparta. What Aphrodite forgot to mention, however, was that Helen was married – to Menelaus, king of Greece. And when Paris ran away with Helen, the greatest war the world had ever known was precipitated. The Trojan War.
All because of a golden apple.
The English philosopher John Ruskin told the story of a man who boarded a ship carrying all his wealth in a bag of gold coins. Several days into the voyage a terrible storm came up. “Abandon ship!” came the cry. The man strapped his bag of gold around his waist, went on deck and jumped overboard, only to sink to the bottom of the sea. “Now”, asked Ruskin. “As he was sinking, had he the gold? Or had the gold had him?”
Gold is beautiful. Gold is compelling. Gold is awesome. But beware the decisions it can lead you to make…
* Dominic Frisby, author of Daylight Robbery – How Tax Shaped The Past And Will Change The Future, out now in paperback at Amazon and all good bookstores with the audiobook, read by Dominic, on Audible and elsewhere.