To illustrate this point, let's look at the famed Nike. She was the goddess of speed and victory. Today her character is symbolized by the trademarked Nike "Swoosh," which is found on footwear and athletic equipment the world around. Her wings decorate the hood on Rolls-Royce automobiles. She was fast and fleet. Apparently, that's how we like our sneakers and our automobiles!
Words like panic, titanium, and aphrodisiac come from the Greek myths. Do you have the Midas touch, an Achilles heel, or Herculean strength? These are all clichés rooted in Greek mythology. We say that a Trojan Horse has infected our hard drive. We use Ajax™ brand soap and chew on Trident® brand gum. It is pandemic (yet another English word that has its roots in the Greek language).
Lesser known is the Titan named Prometheus. Some stories say that he formed man out of clay. But the most well known story is that he stole fire from Mount Olympus, and gave it as a gift to the human race. As punishment, Zeus chained him to a rocky cliff in the Caucus mountains, where an eagle tore at his liver for years on end.
So where would the human race be without fire? Without combustion?
We’ve used fire to heat our homes and cook our food for thousands of years. Fire gave us the Bronze Age, the Iron Age, and the Industrial Revolution. Our ability to control fire literally defines the human race---no other species uses fire. And, our ability to harness and efficiently use fire also defines our modern civilization, our level of technological advancement.
At a simple level, we burn wood in a campfire, or a fireplace. In much of the world, this is commonplace. At a more sophisticated level, we burn natural gas or propane to heat our homes or provide hot water for bathing. Or we travel our world using internal combustion engines---in automobiles and airplanes.
The human race has been wonderfully creative in controlling fire. And yet, fire is also a frightening and destructive force. It comes back to bite us, like the eagle that tore at Prometheus's liver. In recent news, you probably heard about natural gas explosions in Massachusetts and West Virginia. Or the garment factory fire in Bangladesh (that fire claimed 112 lives). If you live in Augusta County, you will recall the sad fate of 11-year-old Dustyn Fitzgerald of Dooms, VA; he died in a home fire this past September, despite a valiant effort by the local fire-rescue department.
The National Fire Protection Association estimates that in the U.S., there were 370,000 home structure fires in 2011, resulting in 2,520 deaths and 13,910 injuries. That is a scary statistic. And it doesn’t even include deaths associated with carbon monoxide poisoning---a byproduct of combustion.
If there is some wisdom to be gained in the myth of Prometheus, it is this: we have to respect fire. We have to respect both its creative potential AND its awesome destructive capabilities.
I’ll try to end this blog on a positive note. The good news is that our homes are becoming safer; we are fighting fewer fires and losing fewer lives. Building safety codes ARE reducing risk. In the next blog, I will try to address fire safety, how we can live in a safer home, how we can operate them in a safer manner.