Older brothers are usually cast as inconsequential foils or second-tier villains in the world of folktales. They fail where the youngest brother succeeds, and in their resentment of the latter’s success they may even go so far as to try to prevent that brother from reaching his “happily ever after.” The relationship between brothers in the realm of epic, on the other hand, takes various forms. Agamemnon and Menelaus seem to cooperate well enough in the war waged against Troy in their quest to win back Menelaus’ wife, while the Pandavas of the Mahābhārata successfully work together to protect the shared Mrs. Pandava, Draupadī, and to overcome their dastardly cousins in the mega-battle that takes place in this epic. There is, however, also the example of Eteocles and Polyneices, royal Theban twins whose mutual hatred leads to their own deaths as well as the winnowing of their generation of Greek heroes. Then there is the sad case of the Irish hero Cú Chulainn, who had little choice but to ply his deadly secret weapon, the gae bolga, upon his beloved (foster) brother Ferdiad, whose name, in ironic reference to his close relationship with the hero who slew him, seems to mean ‘member of a pair.’
Fortunately for the Nagy brothers, not only has there always been fraternal concord, but the oldest has never been anything less than a watchful shepherd, a sage mentor, and a shining heroic example for the younger ones. It has been said that a child raised by a first-time parent resembles the first pancake one makes, and should be excused accordingly. In our family, however, that first pancake set the highest of standards for all the crêpes to come. Although each of the younger Nagy boys has come to be keenly aware of how hard an act Gregory has been to follow, we can also happily testify to his countless acts of kindness above and beyond the call of fraternal duty, and to his constant encouragement, which made each of us feel special in his own way. From Gregory’s gentle tolerance of little brothers trying to imitate him (he even let us win the competition sometimes), to his ever-readiness whenever we asked him to dispense advice about matters big and small; from his thoughtfully initiating us into the mysteries of language, culture, and politics (a process that included the thorough hand-written glossing of any newspaper or news magazine that came into the house), to his setting for us a sterling example of how to be an inspiring educator of our children and our students–amidst Gregory’s mind-boggling range of activities and interests, he never neglected to pay attention to us in these and many other ways, and to share all that he could with his family. He is truly Gregory the Great, and we are fortunate indeed to be his acolytes and epigones.