Saturday, February 25, 2012

My Visit With 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. 

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.



  1. LOL! You are the Best! Your writing abilities + mythological & current events expertise + comedy skills = Outstanding Commentator on Greek Life

    Poppy Psinakis Patterson

  2. Dude, you do NOT get the ruby slippers. That's seriously trespassing into my territory. But there are days when I think Toto and I had better stay the hell out of Kansas. Greece doesn't sound much better.

    There's a country I would like to revisit sometimes. A yearning for home. When all the grownups were in charge, and absolutely knew what was right and true.

    I think that country was called childhood

  3. Thanks, Poppy, you typed every word exactly as I’d asked.:) If I may be allowed a serious moment, it sincerely meant a lot to read those words from someone as dedicated to Greece as you. Thanks again.

    And, Charlotte, I honestly thought of you as when I reached for those slippers. I sensed you might catch me since nothing that happens in the Kansas territory seems to escape you. For those who don’t know Charlotte Hinger, she’s a Western Kansas historian who brings her knowledge, wit, and prodigious writing skills to life in the Lottie Albright mystery series in a way that truly proves Murder is Everywhere.

  4. Wonderful post, Jeff, but I want to know how Zeus presumes to judge anybody, since there's barely one rotten, universally forbidden thing that he didn't do before anybody else.

    It's interesting how universal the Flood myth is -- I know of versions of it in half a dozen religious traditions from all over the world. And if Zeus IS getting fed up with us again... what? Warming? Uhhh...

  5. Very, very funny. but it doesn't sound much messier than what is going on right now-everywhere. Which I suppose was your point. Funny, there are quite a few religious traditions with all kinds of incest-I wonder what that means. Maybe it was just available. Actually, I'll have to think on that one. Jung would have an answer. Thank you for a good laugh this morning.

  6. Good point, Tim, and apropos of the same sort of "Do as I say, not as I do" message we're receiving from a lot of folk. I'm talking about those trying to reach the modern day equivalent of Zeus' inner-santorum of power. I guess you could say...drum roll...the paul over the current US political scene mitt seem depressing, but to the gods there's nothing newt out there under the ever more penetrating sun.

    Thanks, Lil. I've long been a big fan of Jung, and James Hillman and Thomas Moore...which may say more about me than I intended:) but if it made you laugh that's all that matters.

    I agree, Cara, it's one of the best of the sort I've ever come across.

  7. I once presented a somewhat less detailed explanation of the Greek gods to a ninth grade World History class. When I mentioned Zeus swallowing his children I continued the sentence with "and then he..." and a voice from the back of the room said "burped".

    Forty years later, I still laugh till my eyes water when I think of that lesson. It is moments such as those that keep high school teachers coming back every day.

  8. AHA, Beth! Now I understand how guys like Tim blame poor Zeus for all sorts of things he never did. Yeah, he married his sister, fooled around on her with practically everyone including other sisters, but he never ate his children. That was his daddy, Kronos (aka Saturn to the Romans). Okay, it was a typo, because you and I both know that you knew it was Kronos, but how could I pass up the straight line.:)


  9. ". I guess you could say...drum roll...the paul over the current US political scene mitt seem depressing, but to the gods there's nothing newt out there under the ever more penetrating sun."

    I left out the way you weaved in santorum because that was pushing it. As to remembering what Greek gods did what, I left that part of my brain back in 1980. I think Zeus has only himself to blame for his bad reputation. He hired a really good publicity agent so if you stopped 10 people on the street (as long as the street isn;t in Greece) and asked them to name a Greek god, they would all name Zeus. It is the easiest to spell.

    The Romans stole the Greek gods for themselves then chucked the whole lot out the window when they realized the gods are more poorly behaved than the mortals.