“Whoever becomes Oregon’s governor this November, the cleaning of the Augean stables of our education department should be very high, if not first, on her list of action items.” (from The Oregonian, opinion, 8/30/22)
Oregon ranks 37th in the list of Pre-K-12th Grade ranking recently released by the U.S. Department of Education (DOE). The writer of this opinion piece begins by disputing the claims of an earlier “our top educational challenges” editorial by Oregon’s DOE Colt Gill.
Not why I’m writing this—great word choice in the closing paragraph, right? I am always on the lookout for that, for words I don’t know, for references that another writer has used that are unfamiliar to me.
I confess that mythology never grabbed my enduring interest. So “Augean stables” triggers my search for context. Here’s what Merriam-Webster says:
“History and Etymology for Augean
Latin Augeas, king of Elis, from Greek Augeias; from the legend that his stable, left neglected for 30 years, was finally cleaned by Hercules.”
The story hinges on the the Labors of Hercules, this being his fifth and intended to humiliate rather than elevate. Those stables were full of dung, the product of healthy cows. Hercules reroutes rivers to sweep through and eliminate the filth. Augeus is irate and reneges on the promise he made to Hercules, an agreement to give him half the cattle if the task could be completed in one day. (Thanks, Wikipedia.)
Don’t mess with the gods, Augeus—even I know that.
And curiosity has led me here, to Augeus’ demise and an understanding of an allusion, an exploration engendered by a single phrase.
To cultivate curiosity in our students, to titillate imaginations? That is truly the Herculean task.