You know how, whenever you order or sign up for something online, you have to scroll through that ridiculously long “Terms and Conditions” contract, full of (I presume) legal mumbo-jumbo? And I say “I presume” because I’ve never actually read any it, neither the “terms” nor the “conditions”; I just click “I Agree” or “I Accept.”
Doesn’t everyone? Honestly, has anyone actually read through any of these contracts? Seems silly. I’ve often wondered, though: what are we actually “accepting” when we click on “I Accept”? How do we know they haven’t slipped something sinister in the middle of all that legalese? How do we know, while innocently buying a pair of Christmas suspenders, we haven’t inadvertently sold our eternal souls away to some crafty minor demon?
Ancient mythmakers have actually warned us about the necessity of reading the fine print, in the story of Tithonus. A strapping mortal man, Tithonus catches the eye of Aurora, Roman goddess of the dawn (known as Eos in Greek tradition). Only instead of asking him if he wanted to go out and grab a frozen yogurt or something subtle like that, Aurora kidnaps Tithonus and forces him to be her love-slave. (I know: poor guy, having to be the love-slave of a beautiful goddess…)
The two actually fall in love, but there’s a problem: Aurora is immortal, and Tithonus is not. So Aurora goes to Jupiter (Zeus, for Greeks) and asks him to do them a solid: grant Tithonus immortality.
Jupiter agrees, and there is much rejoicing… for a while. Unfortunately, Aurora forgot to read the fine print; she didn’t realize that, in addition to wishing for her husband’s immortality, she should have also asked for the gift of eternal youth. After all, one without the other is no good.
You can see where this is going: after many years, Tithonus shows signs of age. His hair becomes white, his face gets wrinkled, he wants to eat dinner at 4:00 so he can get the Early Bird Special at Pandora’s Bar and Grill.
Eventually, poor Tithonus gets so old that he can’t talk above a faint creaking sound; not only that, he begins to become so hunched over, he actually starts to shrink. Finally, Aurora can’t stand to see him suffer any longer and transforms him into the creature he started to resemble: the grasshopper.
How do those ancients do it? Not only did they come up with a perfectly plausible explanation for the origin of the grasshopper, they also crafted a cautionary tale for our modern times. First, the Tithonus story warns us about the dangers of not aging gracefully—something that members of the modern youth-obsessed culture should definitely keep in mind.
Next, the myth reminds us that, when it comes to romantic relationships, some differences may be too big to overcome. An immortal marrying a mortal? Could that be that be the equivalent of a Red Sox fan marrying a Yankee fan?
And possibly the most important lesson of the Tithonus story: read the terms and conditions. You have no idea what you’re agreeing to. And if you wake up one morning to realize you sprouted antennae overnight, think back: it may have something to do with that iTunes account you opened up back in 2005…
Incidentally, Alfred, Lord Tennyson wrote the poem about poor, pitiable Tithonus, victim of his own “cruel immortality.” You can find the Tennyson poem here: http://www.online-literature.com/donne/730/