During Bouchercon week we’re picking posts from among our favorite blogs of the past. I find it impossible to choose which I “like the most,” so I’m taking the easy way out and going with what our readers continue to favor more than any other of my posts. Coincidently, it’s my post for Bouchercon 2012 (October 6, 2012) titled “The Greek Gods Redux” and incorporates my posts from January 28, 2012, “The Gods Will Be Back,” February 25, 2012, “A Visit With The Gods,” and the substance of a third post on the Greek gods that went up on May 18, 2013, titled “Greece’s Sun and Moon God Twins: Apollo and Artemis.”
If this post is beginning to sound sort of like a nest of Russian dolls, I understand, but who am I to argue with the gods over their popularity?
And for those of you lucky enough to be in the Long Beach area on this glorious Saturday morning, I’ll be moderating a panel at Bouchercon between 1:30-2:30 PM today titled "Crimes with International Flavors," featuring Lisa Alber, Brett Battles, Ragnar Jonasson, Ed Lin, and some guy named Stanley Trollip. Stop by if you can. After all we don’t want to make the gods angry, do we?
So, here they are, three visits with the gods, back to back:
I long for the day when the mention of Greece will once again first bring to mind ancient gods, epic tales, and a land and sea infused at every inch with the seminal essence of western civilization. Someday that will happen, for financial crises are transient and gods are immortal, though not eternal—after all, they do need nectar and ambrosia to sustain them.
Ahh, yes, the good old days of true Greek gods quick and strong, knowing all things, capable of miraculous achievements.
It’s been a long while since I’ve read up on the ancient gods, and I must admit to often getting them mixed up, but I’ve just learned that my confusion puts me in illustrious company.
Socrates (469-399 B.C.E.)
According to Alexander S. Murray’s Who’s Who in Mythology, even Socrates was confused by the varying number of seemingly same gods (one Aphrodite or two?) and multiple names for one god (Zeus in summer was called Zeus Meilichios, the friendly god, and in winter Zeus Maemaktes, the angry god).
Some think that’s attributable to disparate early Greek tribes who even after coalescing as a single race kept the original names for their separate gods despite obvious similarities to each other (Dione, Hera, Gaea, and Demeter).
But call them what you wish, the essential purpose of the Greek gods was the same: their existence and interactions explained to mortals the natural order of things, e.g., the earth, the sun, the moon, the stars, the clouds, lightning, thunder, earthquakes, storms, waves, and on and on as needed.
What made Greek gods so significant was that the essentially human form of the Twelve Olympian Deities of Mount Olympus and of the lesser gods living in other environs gave to those who worshipped them the sense that their deities could understand and relate to a mortal’s needs and fears.
The mythological explanations offered by the carryings on of the gods largely centered upon the three supreme rulers of the world: Uranos, Kronos, and Zeus.
The first to rule was Uranos. He represented the heavens and, as the husband of Earth, brought forth life and everything on our planet.
Uranos with Earth
His son, Kronos, ruled next as god of the harvest, ripening and maturing the forms of life brought forth by his father.
Kronos and Rhea
And, lastly, ruled Zeus, bringing order and wisdom to the universe.
Zeus overthrows Kronos (Van Haarlem 1588)
I think it’s safe to say that Zeus hasn’t been around for a while. Or has he?
Whatever, all of this impresses me, as it should every writer, artist, and musician who freely borrows from the tales of the gods in their own creations, albeit sometimes consciously oblivious to the source of their inspiration. So much of what we think unique to modern culture is simply a new way of retelling of what ancient Greeks witnessed in their deities.
I wish I had time now to say more. But there will be later. One must always make time for the gods.
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.
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 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.
Hera with Zeus
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.
It’s hard when you watch a sunset on Mykonos not to think of the island of Delos less than a mile away to the west.
After all, Delos is where Apollo, god of the sun, and his twin-sister, Artemis, the original divine personification of the moon were born to their mother, Leto, out of her assignation with Zeus. Delos wasn’t Leto’s first choice for a delivery room, because back then it was little more than a rock bouncing around the Aegean Sea. But she had little choice because Zeus’ wife (and sister), Hera, had the world fearing her jealous wrath, and only tiny Delos saw nothing to lose in making a “You take care of me, I’ll take care of you bargain” with Zeus.
Birth of Artemis and Apollo to Leto
From the moment of Apollo’s birth, when golden light flooded down upon Delos, the island prospered, so much so that it rose to emerge as one of antiquity’s bastions of commerce and religiosity.
But Apollo didn’t stick around his birthplace very long. Jealous Hera drove Leto away from her children forcing Apollo to grow up quickly—in a matter of hours to be precise (on a diet of nectar and ambrosia)—and begin a pilgrimage that launched his myth, one of the oldest of all Greek myths and one of the few of entirely Greek creation (as opposed to foreign influences).
Although Apollo’s exploits gave rise to his being known by many different names and titles—Karneios, Hyakinthios, Pythios, Thargelios, Nomios, Delphinios, Ismenios, Hebdomeios, Lykios, Musagetes, etcetera—they all in one way or another derived from his link to the eternal operation of the sun and all that the ancients attributed to it.
In much the same way Apollo’s sister, Artemis, found that the qualities attributed to the moon—bringing fertility to the earth through cool, dew filled nights and casting light into the dark night offering protection to flocks and hunters—had her identified with those traits (fertility, hunting) and called by names and titles linked to those perceived powers of the moon: Agrotora, Kalliste, Diktynna, Britomartis, Eleuthro, Orthia, Limnaia, Potamia, Munychia, Brauronia, Amarynthia, etcetera.
Adonis and Artemis
As a duet, Apollo and Artemis might be best known for a bloody, Bonnie and Clyde-style episode brought on by an affront to their mother (and them) by the daughter of a king who boasted that her own children were “more beautiful” than Leto’s. Talk about perturbing the wrong folk. Artemis and Apollo promptly punished the prideful mother (Niobe) by slaying all of her children, Artemis by arrows the daughters, and Adonis by arrows the sons. In her anguish the mother turned to stone.
On the off chance I’ve written something that a buddy of those Delosian twins might find offensive, please don’t come looking for me. You’ll want to talk to Alexander S. Murray who wrote Who’s Who in Mythology. It’s his book that’s responsible for driving this post…so help me gods.