Same old, same old

     To idio is Hellenic for “the same”. An idiom poetically says the same thing as another prosaic representation; someone who doesn’t understand the sameness and differences might be some kind of idiot. Do you catch my drift?

     In ancient Rome, actors projected their voices through large masks, the famous Comedy and Tragedy faces. The sound (sona) came through (per) the masks: per-sona. These masks (like many cultured sophistications) came from the Hellenes, but the Athenians called the actors on the stage hypokrites.

     Hypokrites is rooted in the PIE krei- “to sieve, distinguish, discriminate, decide. With hypo- under/below, hypo-krites is often translated as “play a part, pretend” but carrying the intent of a back and forth explanation, like actors between and below their masks conveying an understanding. Indeed, Krei- is also the root of the Greek krienesthai, “to explain”. To slowly sieve, to shift back and forth between masks, was how golden nuggets/ideas could be winnowed and explained, how a sudden discrimination could be revealed.

     Originally, the masking was known, the role understood. But when the role or mask is unseen, there is no self-understanding and character or ethos is compromised. We call someone hiding behind a psychological mask a hypocrite, without deep ethics and self-possessed. Are all persons hypocrites or only those without character?

     In Latin there was an idiom, idem et idem, literally “over and over”, but meaning “the same”. Welcome to the “radical” or root understanding of “identity”. We assume an identity based on a certain repetition. Over and over, we identify with our sense of separation. That would describe our common idiocy, now wouldn’t it?

     What is identity? Are we known (even to ourselves) by our repetitive idiosyncrasies? And indeed, what is a person? Is “all the world a stage and all the men and women merely players”? Is it possible to turn out of the sameness of our routine presumptions and assumed necessities into a greater reality?


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