I’ve often wished there were a way to journey back to the heyday of the ancient Greek gods. Just to drop in, say “Hi,” and ask what they think of our current times. These days I’d likely have to make the trip alone, because my Greek buddies—make that all of Greece’s eleven million souls—have more than enough all-knowing, all-powerful forces to contend with in the form of the EU-IMF-ECB troika, plus a hundred-fold that number of homegrown politicians governing their country as if immor(t)als.
This, though, isn’t about current events; it’s about my interest in visiting Olympian deities and, in particular, one called “father of gods and men, ruler and preserver of the world, and everlasting god.” In other words (courtesy of Alexander S. Murray’s Who’s Who in Mythology), I’m talking about the boss man himself: Zeus.
But before I wave goodbye and click those ruby slippers together (couldn’t find a reasonably priced pair of Hermes sandals), let me share a little background on how Zeus got to be Numero Uno. And for you Wizard of Oz aficionados out there, don’t worry about Dorothy’s shoes whisking me off to Kansas instead. I have it on the highest authority they’ve been re-programmed to route me to the otherwise inaccessible, cloud-shrouded Olympos of Thessaly.
Zeus’ upbringing certainly wasn’t what most normal folk would call traditional, unless of course you happen to be a fan of the Dr. Phil sort of stuff inhabiting weekday afternoon American TV.
|Uranos and Gaea|
|Kronos and Rhea|
To begin with, his daddy (Kronos) and mommy (Rhea) were brother and sister. But since his grandparents were the original paired begator (Uranos) and begatee (Gaea) of what love, via Eros (Cupid), had fashioned out of Chaos (the great shapeless mass at the beginning of the world) to prepare the world to receive mankind—that might be considered an extenuating circumstance under modern consanguinity laws.
|Eros and Chaos (by Treijim)|
Besides, it was a substantial improvement over his grandparents’ marital arrangement. Uranos, the husband of Gaea, was not her brother. He was her son. And when Uranos “mistreated” their children, Gaea sided with her son/grandson (Kronos) to destroy her husband/son (Uranos). Got that?
But it gets better. Zeus’ father (Kronos), alert to how children could treat their fathers, swallowed his first five children as they were born. Zeus, the sixth child, only escaped because his mother (Rhea) deceived her husband/brother (Kronos) into thinking Zeus, too, had been swallowed.
|Kronos (Saturn) by Francisco De Goya|
When Zeus reached manhood he enlisted the aid of his grandmother (Gaea) to convince his father (Gaea’s son/grandson) to yield up Zeus’ siblings, which Kronos did. One was Zeus’ sister, Hera (Juno), the love of Zeus’ life … and later his wife. Like father like son, I suppose.
|Zeus and Hera|
Zeus had many affairs and fathered many children, at times in rather unorthodox fashion, but Hera was his only wife, as was the way in Greece. Some say Zeus didn’t gallivant around as much as people liked to think, but gained his reputation innocently through an historical accommodation. When the disparate tribes of Greece came together as one race, each brought with them their own Zeus stories, and all those separate tales were incorporated into one mythology that multiplied Zeus’ fathering experiences far beyond what any individual tribe had believed on its own.
If Zeus got Hera to buy that story, it’s good enough for me.
By the way, let’s not forget that all this played out for Zeus against the time of man on earth.
At the beginning of Zeus’ rule it was the Silver Age of the human race. Men were rich, but grew overbearing, were never satisfied, and in their arrogance forgot the source to which their prosperity was owed. As punishment, Zeus swept the offenders away to live as demons beneath the earth.
Then came the Bronze Age, one of quarreling and violence, where might made right, and cultivated lands and peaceful occupations faded away. Ultimately even the all-powerful grew tired of it all and disappeared without a trace.
The Iron Age followed with a weakened and downtrodden mankind using their bare hands to toil for food, thinking all the while only of themselves, and dealing unscrupulously with each other.
Zeus had seen enough.
He brought on a flood that destroyed all but two members of the human race. A husband, Deukalion, and his wife, Pyrrha, were spared and commanded by the gods to propagate a new human race upon the earth.
|Pyrrha and Deukalion by Andrea di Mariotto del Minga|
That, folks, is supposed to be us.
If I recall correctly, Zeus didn’t think much more of the new batch than he did of the ones he’d wiped off the face of the earth.
But this is 2012, and the human race is so much different now than it was in Zeus’ day that we have absolutely nothing to fear from the big guy for the way we live our lives today.
Hmmm. I really can’t wait to get going. Honest. But time travel these days isn’t as predictable as it once was (what with all those amateurs clogging up the astral planes) and I’d sure hate to pop in on Zeus on a bad day. God(s) knows where/how I’d end up.
On reflection, I think I’ll put those slippers away for now—at least until after the elections. Which elections, you ask? Good question. I’ll wait for a sign from the gods on high and let you know.