Ode to Victory
Victory, how far you have fallen!
Daughter of rape, sister of monsters, child of Styx who personifies Hate, indentured to war, none expected to find you at Zeus’s side, judging competitions for all time. Named Nike for “shining violence,” you emerged our pinioned goddess, venerated by our cults and in our temples.
We can but imagine the troubled power you wield. De-sexualized virgin, you would never find liberation. Once with sharp-minded wings, little time would pass before you were Icarus’ed: made peaceful, quiet, civil, domestic, ironically carrying a pomegranate. Stripped of your wings, thou woman, merged with Athena, stay home. What torment such captivity must have for you! Victory bound.
So, too, does icon–symbol–offer us wisdom. What power, a stripped and shrunken sign?
Not every Nike keeps her wings.
Acropolis Museum, CC BY-SA 2.5, via Wikimedia Commons
Yet 50 years ago, in 1972, your meaning would re-emerge in fascinating ways. When in that year the rock band Styx would name itself for your mother, did it understand the meaning? Or was it, according to the temple priest DeYoung, “the only name that none of us hated?” And when in that year, a shoe company named itself after you, Nike, was it returning your wings with a swoosh? Alas, your name was conjured on the very morning the shoeboxes required printing, more for euphony than for meaning. It was a love of “K” sounds which found us Nike (just like Kleenex and K-Mart), and your name was added to an already-selected wing logo. When in 1972, the SALT I talks grounded the Nike missiles, we remembered, too well, what business we had with you. But it was also in that year, my goddess, when Marshall Applewhite and Bonnie Nettles first met, and determined that they were divine messengers for a new cult where you would appear, Heaven’s Gate*.
Your name, my once-Winged Victory, borrowed in ignorance, but not free of consequence or significance.
But intention is no excuse for a loss of meaning. In that year, wings–the free element of power and sharpness–are from your divine but defrocked image. What kind of Victory was America expecting . . .?
“Your name, my once-Winged Victory, borrowed in ignorance, but not free of consequence or significance.“
What does it mean to win? We talk remorsefully about the cutthroat tactics of CEOs, hedge fund managers, and political lobbyists. The Left will decry cases like Citizens United as dehumanizing. Bernie Sanders calls for a fight, but warns that we should not “enter that world of despair. We can win this fight if we stand together.” We think too often of David and of Goliath, and our right to bring down every giant with a million slingshots. If there is Justice in the world, why then . . . .
But Victory (Nike) is not Justice (Themis). And even Themis, for her part, a goddess of natural or divine law, was seen sometimes as blindfolded not because of a principle for fairness, but that she might better connect to her “second sight” oracular power at Delphi. There is no family blood between the two.
I’m certain it means nothing.
Photograph by albyantoniazzi, http://www.brandmurder.com/gallery/broken-swoosh/
And America has always known this, despite its intentional protests. The Founding architecture of our country was built upon a (Neo)Classical style, reinforcing the spirit of Nike’s Age, the temples of her wisdom. We can pardon Blackwater villains, declare “Victory” in Iraq, create a School of the Americas, and in 1972, even break into Democratic National Committee headquarters. It’s about winning. Manifest Destiny.
And whatever we may believe, Victory’s brethren are Kratos (Strength) and Bia (Force), not moral certainty, not principled action, neither Justice.
And you, oh Nike, are not so domesticated as we might have hoped. Oh Sister of Monsters, Daughter of War and Hate, still offering the Pomegranate, you of “shining violence,” what troubled power you wield. And still we adore you.
Time stands still as I gaze In her waters
She eases me down, touching me gently
With the waters that flow past my boat on the river
So I won’t cry out anymore
Tommy Shaw, Styx, “Boat on the River”
Atsma, Aaron. “‘Nike.’” Theoi Project, 2017, https://www.theoi.com/Daimon/Nike.html.
Levinson, Philip. “How Nike Almost Ended up with a Very Different Name.” Business Insider, 20 Jan. 2016, https://businessinsider.com/how-nike-got-its-name-2016-1.
“Nike.” Story Map Journal. https://arcgis.com/apps/MapJournal/index.html?appid=e0466015d6764f66925326b7837c4e73. Accessed Oct. 2021.
Reimann, Matt. “Suicide, Nikes, and Comet Space Ships: The Story of the Heaven’s Gate Cult.” Medium, 14 May 2018, https://timeline.com/the-heavens-gate-mass-suicide-7f440ab4b333?gi=9d87ef1ddca3.
Ronkowitz, Ken. Styx. 23 May 2013, https://whynameitthat.blogspot.com/2013/05/styx.html.
Sanders, Bernie. “‘What the Billionaire Class…’” Twitter, 6 Mar. 2020, https://twitter.com/berniesanders/status/1235932507385839617?lang=he.
Wicker, Alden. Nike & The Most Infamous Normcore Cult Suicide Of All Time. 1 Oct. 2021, https://refinery29.com/en-us/heavens-gate-cult-nike-decades-reddit-story.