The St. George
Have a cocktail, don't drink the kool-aid.
Not much is known about the historical St. George – that medieval story about some damned dragon was just that, a medieval story. It was that implausible tale, though, that first brought the figure to my attention in middle school. Telling my teacher that I’d adopted St. George as my patron saint because, as far as I could tell, he was the only saint who got the girl in the end. It’s pretty (and petty) middle school logic, but St. George kept hanging around my mind despite not killing a dragon or getting the girl. In the end, he was beheaded by his boss.
A Roman soldier with a pedigree from the Levant, George was in the praetorian guard of the Emperor Diocletian. During the late empire, nearly all Caesars claimed to be descended from the gods, but few Romans took it seriously – just a bit of fashionable snobbery on the part of the elites who could afford it. Despite the divine family tree, Emperors weren’t generally officially deified until after they were dead. It tended to end badly when they declared themselves gods while still walking around and apt to be strangled in the bathtub.
Yet Diocletian decided that he was the embodiment of the god Jupiter himself and didn’t need a funeral to make it official. Great for the ego, but the problem were those Jewish off-shoots, the Christians. Like the Jews, they had a deity who was not only not part of an ensemble cast of hundreds, but faith in whom erased all other gods. According to the Christians, there was only one God to worship – and it absolutely wasn’t Diocletian.
The emperor’s reaction was so fierce that even the pagan on the street thought it was over the top. First of all, the average Josephus felt, everyone was entitled to a god or two, so what difference did it make if some weirdos thought theirs was special? Secondly, the worse thing the Christian sect did was tell everyone to pay their taxes and not cheat their neighbors. Regardless, Diocletian killed heaps of Christians and they called him “the Dragon” for it.
Despite being an imperial favorite, when George refused to publicly drink the imperial kool-aid, the emperor had him tied to a wheel and shredded with knives before having him beheaded. Not much else is known about St. George, but that does put the legend of his slaying the “dragon” in an entirely new light.
This second, decidedly less romantic, tale was the one that stayed with me. Not as some James Bond of Antiquity – slaying bad guys and baggin’ the local princess - but because he represented the value of standing for something bigger than yourself. Not joining a fashionable movement, but having your own moral compass and sticking to it in the face of fatal social pressure. That’s important in these days when ideological purity of the tribe has poisoned simple human understanding and decency.
It’s hard not to drink either the kool-aid, red or blue, when your neck or even reputation is on the line. But in the heart of every fanatic there is doubt – that’s what makes them so loud, so angry, so very tribal. In the end, when the time comes to step up and make a choice – and it always does – we have to make our alone. And making a fateful choice alone is harder than the mob realizes. I suppose that’s why so few people do it.
It is something to which we should raise a glass. And not of kool-aid, either, To wit:
The St. George
2 oz. Hendrick’s gin
½ oz. dry vermouth
1 dash lime juice
3 olives stuffed with blue cheese.
Pour gin, vermouth and lime into cocktail shaker filled with ice and give it a righteous shake up. Strain into cocktail glass with three olives “on the lance.”
And when they demand that you drink the kool-aid, just say, “No thank you. I’m good.”