Eris, also known as Strife or Discordia, and her friend or brother Ares, the god of war, walk through the world causing pain and destruction. They love to see people fighting with one another, they laugh on battlefields turned to mire with the blood of slain men, they yell horribly and happily across fields of wounded soldiers, and taunt them back to the fighting so that they become corpses. Eris comes between friends and lovers, introducing jealousy, suspicion and doubt into happy relationships and turning them sour and broken. All of the creatures in Pandora’s box: scolding, despair, envy, gossip, distrust, drudgery, and–worst of all–false oaths, all of these creatures are children of Eris.
The gods don’t like Eris, because she’s so unpleasant and nasty, they don’t invite her to their parties; but they use her. If somebody angers them, they’ll send Eris down to destroy their life and their love. Sometimes Eris is seen as valuable to men. She introduces the kind of dissatisfaction that makes a person work harder. Like modern-day advertisers, she makes them feel insecure about their achievements compared to those of their neighbors and inspires them to become more industrious. Inevitably insecurity and discouragement lead to bitterness, self-doubt leads to rancor, and humans begin fighting again. Potter fights with potter, farmer fights with farmer, carpenter fights with carpenter and everybody is miserable.
Eris has apples of discord, which she throws down to distract people and create antagonism and violence. If you ignore these apples, they’re small and harmless. But the more attention you pay them, the more you try to get rid of them, the larger they get, until they block your way entirely, or destroy you.
I find Eris fascinating, and frighteningly recognizable. Because Eris is, of course, a personification of a depressingly enduring human quality. When I first read about her, I thought, “I know people like that.” I thought of people at almost every job I’ve ever had who lied and gossiped and stirred up trouble because they enjoyed the drama and knew that others did, too. I thought of politicians in our country and others, throughout history, who have lied and spread fear so that they could provoke or justify war, for whatever evil and greedy reason they harbored.
In the past years, especially, our political discourse has been steeped in the rhetoric of reality television, which thrives on petty meaningless conflict, shallow complaints and grievances. But conflict feeds on ignorance and need, and small kernels of discontent and manufactured hatred, when shared and dwelled upon with self-righteous rage, gather force and destructive strength. Newscasters and politicians fan the flames, they won’t let us ignore the apples of discord, but present them to us relentlessly, a golden, rotten prize, until the pettiness and unease become actual hatred and violence.
Maybe we all have a bit of Eris in us. We can blame it on her children, on envy or despair, or any other weakness and insecurity, but maybe everybody has a tendency to make things more difficult than they need to be, and to look for reasons to mistrust others. It’s a frightening idea. But recognition of the tendency is the key to overcoming it. When faced with an apple of discord we can ignore it, we can shut out the constant chattering voices and resist the web of lies that grows more tangled and dangerous with each person who believes and spreads the stories. It’s better not to feed the discontent, but to starve it by speaking the truth, and spreading kindness and encouragement instead of misery and strife. Or we’ll anger the gods and they’ll turn us all into birds!