Hafiz Abdulkareem
4 min readMay 24, 2023

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Photo by Siddhant Kumar on Unsplash

Whispers of Ambition, Torments of Greatness.

At the western edge of the earth, where the sky meets the horizon and the golden apples of Hera are jealously guarded by the Hesperides, Atlas stood watching. As Ladon flew through the night sky and the nymphs of Hera attended to daily tasks while their skin shone with a breathtaking radiance. Here Atlas stood, watching as he carries his load, pining for relief and entrance into Heras paradise. Here Atlas stood, with the weight of the stars and moon under his back and with no choice but to endure because to falter was to destroy. To falter was to spell out doom for the world and his family. Here Atlas stood, as his muscles strained under this weight while his heart strained under a longing for relief, as his tendons tensed and each moment morphed into another eternity. Here Atlas stood, taking his eternal punishment for his cardinal sin of pride.

A universe away, In the heart of Petersburg, a city of grandeur and decay, Raskolnikov lay face up in the small, cramped room he called home. The walls, once painted a vibrant green, were now stained with dirt and mold. Water dripped incessantly from the leaky roof making the room even damper, a constant reminder of his poverty and desperation. Here Raskolnikov lay as he contemplated his existence on his quest for greatness. Russia lay in turmoil and needed its greatest minds at the helm of affairs. Social inequality, the serfdom and limiting of free debates by the leaders of “free society”. Russian salvation lay in his hands while he lay here languishing in poverty. All he needed was a chance, a chance to prove his intellectual superiority. A chance to prove to Russia he was their messiah. A born leader in this dark age. Besides, what was the loss of a life compared to the salvation of millions? She deserved to die. She was a wretch who should be grateful her pitiful existence aided his transcendence. Here Raskolnikov lay, as he compared himself to Napoleon who left thousands dead in his search for a greater cause. As he drew a comparison with Genghis who left millions dead to fulfill his destiny. What was a life in comparison? Here Raskolnikov lay, coming to terms with the reality of a murder, as he slowly lost his mind trying to reconcile the barbarity of his act with the nobility of his cause and the humility of his purpose. Here Raskolnikov lay.

Greatness. I’ve lain at night thinking about it, I’ve zoned out in parties dreaming about it, I’ve walked into sparring sessions fighting to live it. I have come to the sullen realisation that greatness is no idea to be toyed with. First day in my final year in university I wanted everything. I was going to juggle a job, excel at university and box at every tournament. I was going to be great. The night before university started I found myself close to tears as I burst an eardrum at sparring earlier that day and wondered how the rest of the year would pan out. I stood at the feet of greatness and she deemed me unworthy. The pursuit of greatness has given me the highest of highs alongside the most cruel of heartbreaks because what she demands of me is a constant expansion. Satisfaction doesn’t exist in her vocabulary. What she requires of me is an obsession, an infatuated lover.

Greatness. Man stands at her feet and begs that she deems him worthy to court her and she asks for a reason. “Those equal and more capable than you vie so desperately for my hand and you insist you be chosen?” The dreamer stands with audacity and delusion, convinced his determination should be enough to win her hand. Just like those before him, the dreamer stands. A fool at the base of a mountain convinced he is destined to conquer. Just like those before him the dreamer stands. Convinced of his wisdom, convinced of his temerity.

Raskolnikov, the protagonist in Doestoevsky’s crime and punishment finds himself being driven mad by the idea of greatness and his desperate pursuit of it. The question arises as to why it is such a crazy idea to sit and term yourself as a great. The “great” one believes he is better than other men, and who is he to believe that? Who is he to claim superiority? Who is he not to embrace humility?

You have transgressed with the cardinal sin of pride and your punishment is the burden of eternal proof. O great one, the punishment for your cardinal sin is fervent worship, strained muscles and a tortured mind. The punishment for greatness is eternal torture. Greatness stands before you, ever seductive and asks “do you still desire me?”

Greatness says, O Atlas drop the stone of your burdens but utter the words and accept humility. O Raskolnikov, confess to your sins and redeem yourself of the burdens on your mind. Will you?

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Hafiz Abdulkareem

Documenting my thoughts as I try to find myself in this journey called life.