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The animal gladiators of hubris

The animal gladiators of hubris
Gladiators: a re-enactment (© Matthias Kabel)

I HAD the opportunity to visit Greece earlier this year, together with a group of people associated with a local seminary. Our local tour guide Costas (could he have been named anything else?) was literally a Greek treasure trove of historical information, a veritable walking library.

In the course of our tour, as he recounted to us the stories of wars and battles, gods and kings, mythical monsters and extraordinary humans, heroes and heroines, schemes and plots, he had several occasions to remind us of the greatest sin a mortal living in ancient Greece could commit. One word: hubris.

Quoting Wikipedia:

“Hubris, sometimes spelled hybris (ancient Greek ὕβρις), is a term used in modern English to indicate overweening pride, self-confidence, superciliousness, or arrogance, often resulting in fatal retribution. In ancient Greece, hubris referred to actions which, intentionally or not, shamed and humiliated the victim, and frequently the perpetrator as well. It was most evident in the public and private actions of the powerful and rich. The word was also used to describe actions of those who challenged the gods or their laws, especially in Greek tragedy, resulting in the protagonist’s downfall.”

Wrongs and rights
A depiction of Icarus by 16th-century artist Hendrik Goltzius (Public domain; source:
Two men. Each ambitious. Each zealous for the causes he promotes and defends. Each vying to become the next prime minister of Malaysia. One from within the halls of the political party in power. The other now a self-proclaimed power-in-waiting.

One is urbane, one is erudite. One is old money, old school tie, old family, pukka foreign university-educated. The other is a self-made (or perhaps the beneficiary of the New Economic Policy) former student leader, locally educated, firebrand Islamist (note how it is never “Islamic” anymore, as in “Turkey is ruled by an Islamist political party”).

Both are magnetic personalities. Both attract thousands of loyal followers on the one hand, as well as links to ongoing police investigations or court cases that just stubbornly will not go away on the other.

One is allegedly associated with a “blow up”. The other with a “blow hole” — again, allegedly.

The Malaysian public is suitably blown away by the neverending and earth-shattering revelations that regularly feature on the front pages of both our mainstream and online media. Our eyes pop out reading, from our mobile telephones or other hand-held devices, hastily sent text messages disclosing the latest instalment of this unending story.

Move aside, Aesop: ancient Greek fables have no equal in contemporary Malaysian politics.

Or do they?

Malaysian gladiators

Men filled with hubris are fated to attempt to touch the stars and dwell in the heavens. But ultimately, they fall to their destruction. As it was with Icarus, whose father wanted them both to fly, and so built magnificent wings of glued-together feathers to soar skyward.

But the higher Icarus got, the closer he came to the sun, and to its glue-melting rays. And this was Icarus’ winged undoing. Which is also why when ancient Greek gods wanted to honour the courage or memory of certain individuals, they flung their remains into the stars, in order to place them for eternity as constellations, looking down on earth and its mortal inhabitants.

The animal gladiators of hubris
Interior of the Roman Coliseum. Who would win in our Malaysian arena?
(© Chantal Ringuette / 123rf)

It is perhaps hubris that may undo both our gladiators. To have fought so hard and lost (I realise I may be jumping the gun here). To have gambled so much and yet failed to achieve the ultimate prize. To have offered plenty on the altar and yet to have had the sacrifice found wanting by the gods (or perhaps to be outwitted by deals made by other mortals with other gods in the pantheon, as is usually the case with Greek mythology). And to have raised our hopes and aspirations to such a height, only to see them dashed against the Scylla and drowned in the Charybdis of Malaysian politics.

When all this is finally over, how will we remember our two gladiators, battling it out in the Malaysian coliseum (no, not the one on Jalan Tunku Abdul Rahman in Kuala Lumpur)?

I am pleased to disclose that there is already an animal species by the name of anoa. According to Wikipedia, “the anoa are a subgenus of buffalo comprising two species native to Indonesia: the mountain anoa (bubalus quarlesi) and the lowland anoa (bubalus depressicornis). Both live in undisturbed forest, and are essentially miniature water buffalo, are similar in appearance to a deer, weighing 150-300kg. They live in deep rainforests.” Sturdy animals indeed.

Will modern Malaysian science genetically engineer another species? It could perhaps be a cross-breed of an equally sturdy local black-and-white tapir with a hardy animal that could be found living on the plains of Ulan Bator, in Mongolia.

Wrongs and rights
Anoa (Public domain; source:
And its name? Perhaps “najibolia”, or better still, “najiboliau”. The resultant offspring could either inherit the black and white of the tapir, or have a more fudged appearance, depending on the need for camouflage.

And to make it complete, such an animal should have the ability to make a whistling noise, a characteristic known as “siffleur”, sometimes mispronounced as “see-four”. End of Article

Andrew Khoo is an advocate and solicitor in private practice, and an aspiring columnist and commentator.

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One Response to “The animal gladiators of hubris”

  1. kofibinteelif says:

    Andrew, great start as a commentator but the ending is just plain lousy. What was the point you were trying to make? Or have made? From gods to animals?

    And some lame joke about C4?

    Come on.

    I do expect better from The Nut Graph – this is just plain nonsense.

    Better try next time, editors!

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