Greek Mythology Still Seems To Have Relevance

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Communities / Aug. 10, 2017 11:34am EDT

By Christopher David Costanzo


Eos pursues Tithonus in this Ancient Greek depiction. Eos pursues Tithonus in this Ancient Greek depiction. Anyone who contemplates ancient statues of the Greek gods is struck by their apparent embodiment of good health and equanimity. But appearances can be deceiving. Various books on Greek mythology make it abundantly clear that many of them had what today we’d call serious personality disorders.

For example, the top god, Zeus, seemed much given to sudden tantrums during which he would hurl lightning bolts all over the place, or else devour someone who was irritating him. One never knew what might set him off. It might have stemmed from abuse as a child when his father, Cronus, attempted to eat him and his siblings, an incident that is well-documented in ancient literature.

Zeus’ brother Poseidon, god of the sea and rivers, was the same way, with those humongous floods that he would sometimes let loose over the land whenever he was peeved about one thing or other. Another brother, Hades, god of the underworld, apparently had personal issues that resulted in a tendency to abuse women.

And there can be no question that most of the Greek gods were spoiled and vain, even to the point of narcissism and sociopathy. They quarreled among themselves and with humans about their looks, their privileges, and their status, and they waxed very petulant and angry whenever things didn’t go their way.

Yet it seems that there were still some moral lessons that accompanied some of the uglier incidents in their never-ending lives. Here are some examples:

Zeus, Metis and Athena

The first wife of Zeus was Metis, the goddess of cleverness. Zeus found her too smart by a half. One day, probably irritated by one-toomany of her clever, biting, belittling comments, he’d had enough. He devoured her and, I assume, washed her down with a lot of very fine wine.

As a result, he suffered some gastric indisposition and, worse, a pounding migraine. It got worse and worse until his head split open and, tataa, out popped Athena, goddess of wisdom. Moral: Don’t Flount Your Intelligence.

Hephaestus and Hera

Zeus then sought another wife, but after the unfortunate business with Metis most of the goddesses tended to shy away from him. Finally, the tough-minded but gorgeous goddess Hera agreed to marry him. One of their children, Hephaestus, was born an ugly runt which mortified his mother so much that in a fit of pique she physically hurled him down to earth from her home on Mount Olympus.

On earth, Hephaestus mastered the craft of metallurgy. He then made a golden throne which he sent to his mother Hera as a gift. The throne was cleverly crafted as a trap so when Hera sat in it she couldn’t get off until she readmitted Hephaestus to Olympus to free her. Moral: Don’t Underestimate Unattractive People.

Aphrodite & Hephaestus

Aphrodite was the gorgeous god- dess of love and all men desired her. She herself had many crushes, always on very good looking but not very intelligent youths, and she usually spurned older, less handsome men. She rejected the advances of Zeus himself even though he was the grand poobah of all the gods and was accustomed to having anything he wanted.

In anger, he forced her to marry the ugly Hephaestus, by which he also rewarded Hephaestus for his skill in forging the thunderbolts which Zeus hurled around whenever he got mad. But Aphrodite was constantly unfaithful to Hephaestus, and at one point conducted an affair with the not-too-bright but very manly Ares, the god of war. Learning of the affair, Hephaestus used his divine skill as a craftsman to make a sheer, almost invisible but very strong metal netting in which he caught Aphrodite and Ares together. Hephaestus then displayed them that way in front of all the gods at a banquet on Olympus, much to the profound embarrassment of the couple and to the tasteless merriment of everyone there. Moral: The Humiliatee Can Often Become the Humiliator.

Poseidon

Although Poseidon was allotted lordship over the sea and rivers, he selfishly craved dominion over land, and could be quite nasty about it. He had an argument with Athena over who should hold sway over Attica, and he threatened to flood the land forever if he didn’t get it. The other gods got together and decided that dominion over Attica should go to the one who would confer the greatest benefit to the land. So, Poseidon caused a spring to well up and bring water to the dry ground on the acropolis of Athens in Attica. But, instead, Athena caused the first olive tree, which didn’t require much water, to grow from the same ground. The gods deemed that Athena’s olive tree provided a greater benefit than Poseidon’s spring so, to Poseidon’s chagrin she, not he, obtained dominion over Attica. Moral: Don’t Crave Things That Aren’t Allotted to You.

The goddess of discord, Eris, was denied entrance to a certain wedding. Out of spite, she threw into the crowd a golden apple labelled “To the Fairest.” Three very vain goddesses each claimed the apple: Aphrodite the goddess of love, Hera the goddess of marriage, and Athena the goddess of wisdom. The three goddesses then asked Zeus to decide who was the fairest, but Zeus, who was nobody’s fool, said no way would he get involved.

Instead, he referred the matter to a handsome but somewhat doofus mortal named Paris who was very much a ladies’ man and a connoisseur of women. Each of the three goddesses offered Paris an emolument if he would decide in her favor. Hera offered to make him a paramount king. Athena offered him great wisdom and skill in war. Aphrodite offered to give him the most beautiful woman in the world. In the end Paris decided in favor of Aphrodite. Then, with her help, he was able to abduct a gorgeous woman named Helen, the most beautiful woman in the world. He took her from Greece to Troy thereby precipitating the bloody Trojan War. Moral: Men should Avoid Disputes Between Women.

Tithonus and Eos

A certain mortal youth named Tithonus was unbelievably handsome, but was also a retiring nerd whose main interest was in music and art. Eos, the radiant goddess of dawn, who unlike the other gorgeous goddesses did not pursue dumb guys, developed a humungous crush on Tithonus for being both good-looking and smart. However, shy Tithonus didn’t want to get involved.

Eos chased after him everywhere, and even proposed marriage, which he refused. But when Eos promised to procure immortal life for him if he would marry her, he said, well okay. So Eos went to Zeus and begged him to make Tithonus immortal and Zeus agreed.

Eos and Tithonus then got married, started a family, and for a while everything was copacetic. But over the years, everyone began noticing that Tithonus was aging. Eos immediately sought an appointment with Zeus to remind him that he had promised Tithonus eternal life. Zeus replied sure, no problem, but he noted that although Eos had sought immortality for Tithonus she had failed to also ask for his eternal youth. The result was that Tithonus never died, but he got older and older, turned into a demented, babbling senior citizen, shriveled with age, and got smaller and smaller.

Finally, out of pity, Zeus turned him into a tiny chirping cricket. As a cricket, Tithonus continued to live indefinitely with his wife the beauteous Eos. Moral: Be Careful What You Wish For.

Hades, Demeter and Persephone

Demeter was the goddess of fertility and birth. She became very exercised when Hades, the god who ruled the underworld, abducted her daughter Persephone and forced her to become his wife in the nether regions. In anger, Demeter stopped all vegetation on earth from regenerating, thereby threatening humanity with starvation and extinction as punishment for male aggressiveness. The other gods, alarmed at the prospect of no longer having humans to kick around, interceded with Hades, who reluctantly allowed Persephone to come above ground for six months every year to visit her mother, during which time everything bloomed again.

But the incident gave humans a great scare. To further assuage Demeter, they consecrated a period each autumn during which women were permitted to be disrespectful towards men, insult them, maltreat them, and even hold a women-only festival in which women ritually cursed the collective male gender for its attitude towards them. Moral: Beware of Gender Discrimination.

There are many other such examples in Greek mythology where good lessons are learned from the flawed behavior of the gods. As the great Greek playwright Aeschylus put it, “From the gods who sit in grandeur grace comes somehow violent.”

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