Understanding Greek mythology has always been my Achilles’ heel. Whether it’s mighty Hercules slaying the 9-headed Hydra or Thetis dipping her son Achilles into the protective waters of the River Styx, I’m continuously flummoxed by the never-ending array of fantastic characters populating this Grecian game board. It’s like Game of Thrones, but with thunderbolts, tridents and togas. As we delve more deeply into this proto-religion, I’m sure you’ll agree with me when I say: Greek Mythology is just a bunch of crazy made up stuff. And not your regular crazy either. It’s bat-shit crazy. Oh sure it elevates the challenges of life to epic sagas. But it does so with 3-headed dogs, 9-headed Hydras and snake-headed Medusas. Greek mythology is a head case of hallucinogenic seizures somebody took the time to write down. The fact that it has stuck around this long astounds me. But perhaps I’m being too harsh. I’m probably doing a disservice to bat-shit when I compare it to Greek mythology.
At this point you may be thinking, “Perhaps this little screed on Greek mythology isn’t for me,” and you’ve stopped reading. And I thank you for that because now I’m liberated to write from the depth of my soul precisely because no one is watching. You’ve heard the expression, “Dance like no one is watching,” well I’m going to write like no one is watching; which, coincidentally, is the same way one should masturbate. Truth be told, my writing technique is decidedly low tech. I just sit in front of my refrigerator and rearrange the magnetic letters until they say something worthwhile; or at least something Helen of Troy could launch. It would require Helen of Troy because if you’ve ever seen Helen of Bakersfield you’d know she couldn’t launch a bottle rocket.
Now what I propose to launch are 7 separate breezy introductions to Greek mythology. In this way you won’t have to track any complicated storylines and I won’t have to hazard any fussy footnotes. The last time I used footnotes I wasn’t careful and contracted Athlete’s Footnote. By avoiding any depth of study, we shall all wade comfortably in the shallow end of the pool, where we’ll never get in over our heads. In this essay I’ll let the prism of my mind refract the preposterous, yet beguiling legends associated with the quasi-religion known as Greek Mythology. And if that isn’t enough, I’ll ramify it into 7 distinct hues just like a prism does with color (Remember Roy G Biv? Red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet). As I look askance at this manufactured topic of mythology, what follows will be 7 shades of eye-rolling exasperation and humorously confounding comments. If I could come up with 43 more shades I might have a hit on my hands.
Shade 1 Mythology: Religion on the Cheap
Just as the Ford Model T was a precursor to the more advanced Ford Pinto, mythology seems to be a precursor to organized religion. Without mythology’s fanciful stories providing a basis for organized worship, there might not be religion at all and the Middle East would be just one big happy oil field. Imagine that. Mythology doesn’t divide people. It’s a take it or leave it proposition of goofy symbolic stories that no one seems to have a real stake in. I mean who really cares if Oedipus wants to sleep with his mother. Alright maybe his father might have some concerns as in, “For Zeus’s sake, Jacosta (Oedipus’s mom) the kid almost 16 now. He should be sleeping in his own bed.”
“Now dear,” Jacosta interjected, “you know how he has his nightmares. I’m just comforting him.”
This scenario of sleeping with your mother is laughable more than anything else. I suppose it has something to say about…ummm…well, I’m not sure. Freud might know. But let us suppose a boy was separated from his mother at birth and then met her years later at a Greek singles bar when he was young buck and she was a prowling cougar. Who knows? Maybe they’d be “knocking sandals” together that evening. Even so, the whole idea is so kooky that criticizing it offends no one.
Conversely, if you start challenging the Christian belief of God sleeping with Mary, many people get agitated because you’re trampling on a long held, organized set of beliefs that many rightly hold dear. In the realm of mythology, stories are no big deal. But if you sanctify and exalt that story over many centuries; now you’ve got something at stake. You become invested in this faith and if someone attacks or even questions it, you tend to defend your belief system because you don’t know what else you can rely on. Your bedrock is suddenly shifting beneath you and you lash out in fear to solidify it. This dynamic holds true with virtually any belief system and is the reason why arms dealers make such a comfortable living.
Mythology doesn’t require much investment. There’s no temple to attend or money to donate. It’s just fables and sagas and bears – Oh My! Far from polarizing, mythology is an arm’s length approach to explaining the vexing challenges of life. Let’s put it this way: If you like Disney, you’ll love mythology. Mythology – for societies that don’t want to be bothered with religion.
Shade 2 Mythology: Finally the World Explained
If a child starts rambling on about Sky Gods, Sirens and a one-eyed Giant we say that child has an active imagination (or perhaps got into mommy and daddy’s stash). But when this same comic book imagery is espoused by an ancient sachem and comes to us stamped with the imprimatur of a 4000 year old Greek philosophic tradition, we pause to consider its legitimacy and ascribe supernatural validity to it. It’s not all as simple as that, but we are a gullible species and appreciate someone else doing our spade work to explain away the great mystery of life. How else do you get a Sun Myung Moon or FOX News? By providing a framework the blinkered can rely on. That’s how. When relying on someone else’s paradigm, you no longer have to think for yourself nor do you have to reassess anything. It’s all laid out for you and when others believe in it too; your feelings are validated. This holds true for a gamut of things – from Herbalife to religion and everything in between including Greek mythology. So while few lend any credence to the nerdy kid with Asperger’s Syndrome who prattles on about Sky Gods and Cyclopes, many believe in the legitimacy of that same thing said 4000 years ago by some droll Greek philosopher wearing a toga, drinking ouzo and sporting a laurel wreath on his head. Go figure.
When 4 year old Julian Lennon brings home a picture of a lady flying in the sky wearing a big ring and tells his daddy, “It’s a picture of Lucy in the sky with diamonds,” we all say the child has an active imagination. But when John takes that picture and uses it as a basis for the Sgt. Pepper song “Lucy in the Skies with Diamonds” we all say he’s on LSD (Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds) and it becomes part of the cultural landscape. The messenger makes all the difference.
Man has needed to explain the universe ever since the first human orgasm so many eons ago. After that seminal event Og said unto the world, “Wow! This is so much better than pollination. This is only going to make the world less complicated. But where did it come from? I mean I know where it came from I just want to know where it came from? It is lightning from the sky that makes thunder in my shorts. I must tell the others.”
And that breathless evaluation of a perfectly natural bodily function gave rise to bizarre myths explaining man’s relationship to his body. It also spawned a $27 billion a year cosmetics industry. The only credibility I can confer upon Greek mythology is that when compared to Astrology, it’s a hard science.
Shade 3 Greek Mythology Build 2.0: When in Rome
Greek Mythology was the preeminent mythology handed down in the Western world. And although in full flower for millennia, it eventually did wilt, but was resuscitated by the Romans. The proud Romans, not being content to just dust it off and incorporate it into their society, instead rebooted it and replaced all the Greek names with new Roman names. This change in signage needlessly complicated something that was already indecipherable to begin with, and eventually gave rise to high-minded college courses in Comparative Mythology.
Another version of the previous paragraph: As if the original Greek Mythology wasn’t inscrutable enough, those snooty Romans weren’t about to copy it verbatim so they created their own parallel version and now we have to know our Bacchus from our Dionysius, our Mars from our Ares and our Kim from our Chloe. Speculative cartoon imagery born of an active imagination survives antiquity and somehow it becomes a legitimate field of study. It is elevated and analogized to absurd heights of outsized symbolism, when in truth all this chaff just further obfuscates the truth (whatever that is). Greek mythology is a rabbit hole of quaint speculation, distancing us from our true selves (whatever that is). Facebook does the same thing, but with cat videos.
SELECT MAIN GODS: A Comparative Greek to Roman List
SELECT MAIN GODS: A Comparative Greek to American List
|Aphrodite||Anne Hathaway (not Jane Hathaway)|
|Poseidon||Abe Vigoda (Fish)|
|Zeus||Gates or Jobs|
Shade 4 Greek Mythology as a Basis for Religion
How is it that 4000 years ago some ouzo-addled Greeks start swapping stories around the communal campfire and the next thing you know I’m supposed to know my Heracles from my Hercules. Really? College classes are offered based on this hallucinogenic drivel. Heck, there might as well be college classes offered on Star Wars mythology.
“There are,” says Prof. Elovaara of UNC-Wilmington who teaches one (see link).
“Good then,” said the author to no one in particular. Then I’ve made my point.
Instructive myths? Maybe. But do these myths comprise a coherent set of beliefs designed to develop one’s spirituality? Hardly. I’m referring here to Greek Mythology and not to organized religion. Although I suppose my skepticism could just as easily apply to religion. For example, a wunderkind is born in Nazareth to a very nice lady and a very omniscient God, and we’re told he’s the son of God (I’d like to see that paternity test). The radiant young man grows a beard and draws the ire of the establishment by preaching love and the Golden Rule to the huddled masses. He deservedly develops quite a following thereby challenging the Roman authorities who persecute and then crucify him. When he dies he takes his body with him to the sky (heaven I suppose). All the while he somehow died for my sins even though I hadn’t committed any until I was about 13. Is this a myth or a religion?
If we are to become more self-aware, we would be wise to heed the advice Zeus bestowed upon Narcissus before Narcissus began a long and harrowing journey, “Hey Narcissus, watch yourself.”
Shade 5 Early Mythology: Appeasing Pele the Goddess of Fire
The need to impose order on chaos, or at least throw some sand bags around chaos in order to stanch its flood of anarchy, is a human trait that has existed ever since the first volcano blew up without asking permission. This unannounced explosive force frightened man. He had to ascribe cause and meaning to it. Was he being punished because his loincloth was too skimpy? Nope. Was he disfavored for cannibalizing the adjacent village? Nope. It was the virgin. It’s always the virgin at the root of these things. So in this case the village elders decided to appease the Goddess Pele by tossing yet another sacrificial virgin into the roiling lava. Sound reasoning? Absolutely. If you’re a turtle. In reality a volcanic eruption is just a geologic event that occurs on its own timetable and no amount of virgin-tossing can change that. The sad part is, virgin-tossing became a gateway heave that has led to dwarf-tossing.
Not all humans are looking for meaning. Some are content to just sit back and watch the parade of life march past. Those people have what’s known as inherited wealth. They worship Mammon – the God of Avarice. If only one of the more discerning natives afforded with leisure time could’ve piped up and said, “Hey maybe our so-called Goddess Pele has a learning disability and doesn’t know what the hell she’s doing. Y’know like most of us here. I mean aren’t we created in her image. If we are created in her image I can tell you one thing. Pele has a ganglion cyst the size of a door knob on her right wrist.”
Shade 6 Greek Mythology: As Psychedelic as Sgt. Pepper, But Without the Music
In an extremely learned and provocative article in the June 25th edition of Atlantic magazine, Joshua Shenk contrasts how the Manichaean aspects of John Lennon and Paul McCartney’s collaboration catalyzed their musical genius. In doing so he lays Paul’s cooperative, organized style against John’s anarchic, lateral thinking. He buttresses his thesis by invoking the Greek Mythological gods Apollo (Paul’s rational self-discipline) and Dionysus (John’s spontaneous emotionality). This is all well and good and makes for a superb article. But I couldn’t help but imagine how John might respond to this prolix article:
“Big puffy words with a nice rhythm to them even if the whole idea is a bit daft. You could tell he wuz writin’ an article and felt people lookin’ over his shoulder. He did it well but what I say is, why can’t John and Paul explain Apollo and Dionysus? After all, we wuz actual people and don’t exist in comparison to Apollo and Dionysus any more than we do to Sonny and Cher. Apollo and Dionysus are just characters from Strawberry Fields or maybe Alice in Wonderland. Paul and me were just creative guys that really got on musically for whatever reason. We never questioned it or analyzed it. We just did it. Pure and simple. Lots of people have this kind of chemistry. Ours just happened to be on a world stage for a few years. Nuthin’ more.”
And all that’s true. And their musical genius probably would’ve gone on for years had not Pandora (Yoko) showed up and opened her Box thereby scattering the Beatles to the Fates. Hmmm. Maybe there is something to Greek Mythology after all.
Shade 7 Painful Mythological Puns: The Good Kind of Groans
1. Athens (Reuters News Service) – The Myth Universe Pageant was won by Myth Ology of Troy. In the talent portion of the competition she slayed Cerberus the 3-headed dog and in the swim suit portion she wore it best. Myth Ology found inspiration in the most commonplace events. For example when her alarm clock went off in the morning she said it, “served as a wake-up call.” And while this may be true, the Myth Universe Pageant’s emcee, MC Hammer, pointed out, “Alarm clocks are supposed to serve as a wake-up call.”
Myth Ology then quickly added, “Well what I meant was, my alarm clock served as a wake-up call just like Icarus’s death did for Daedalus.”
To which emcee MC responded, “I think you’re mything the point.”
2. Young Eros hops over to Athena’s cloud to see if her son and his friend, Echo, can come out to play. Using the impressive stratocumulus door knockers he bangs on the door. Thud, thud thud. Aphrodite answers:
Eros: Hi Mrs. Hermes. Has anyone ever told you you’ve got tremendous knockers.
Aphrodite: Oh Eros, you have such a one-track mind, but I guess that’s your nature. It’s enough to melt my alabaster skin.
Eros: Well I wasn’t referring to your…oh never mind Mrs. Hermes. Can Echo come out and play?
Aphrodite: First of all I’m no longer Mrs. Hermes. I’m simply Aphrodite. Y’know, like Madonna or Dubya. And secondly, I know he’s floating around here somewhere. Maybe you should come in and call for him.
Eros: Really? Do you really want me to do that again?
Aphrodite: I think it’s for the best.
Eros: Alright. If I have to. Echo, Echo, Echo! Satisfied?
Aphrodite: Oh look. Here he comes now.
Echo: Hey, hey, hey everybody, everybody, everybody. What’s, what’s, what’s up, up, up?
Aphrodite: Good morning Echo. I think you should begin every sentence with the statement, “At risk of repeating myself.”
3. Hyperion Press has released a new set of Dr. Zeus children’s books specifically attuned to juvenile mythology. It’s called “Green Olives and Lamb.” Here’s an excerpt:
I do not like green olives and lamb
I do not like them Pan I am
I do not like them served with toast
I do not like them on Lesbos
I would not, could not with a hero
I would not, could not on a gyro
I do not like green olives and lamb
I do not like them Pan I am
Look for Hyperion’s next children’s books entitled, Hermes Hears a Who and Goodnight Cronus.
In Conclusion: Drawing Down the Shades
And so it came to pass that these 7 shades of Roy G Biv clearly demonstrated the point that Greek mythology is just a bunch of crazy made up stuff. And at the risk of repeating myself I’ll say it again: Greek mythology is just a bunch of crazy made up stuff. It’s true. It’s true. Is there an Echo in here or is it me?
Things I excised from this story because my audience deserves only the best:
This essay will be followed by a boxed lunch and a slide show on the Elgin Marbles. Not the Elgin Marbles that are in the British Museum, but the marbles little Elgin of Athens plays with.
Please Note: Boxed lunch and slide show are provided by the reader; assuming the reader is still reading and the writer has not lost his marbles. Helen of Troy and Elgin of Manchester are not employees of CBS or its affiliates. Helen of Bakersfield is out on bail and her ankle bracelet indicates she’s at an A&W. And finally, it is highly recommended you operate heavy machinery while reading this essay.
Of course next to astrology mythology looks like hard science and don’t get me started on constellations
Yeah and people in Hades want ice water.
Only advantage of being a Cyclops is the money you save on sunglasses.
I now this much: Aphrodite couldn’t hold a candle to Diogenes.
In the time before Twitter, man was more like a wild animal than a homo sapien (homo sapien meaning “the thinking homo”). When the Hydra got he’d get a headsache needed 200 Advil
Whose name recognition is right up there with Pope what’s his name.
And as an added service by the Sky Gods, these myths were brought to you with limited commercial interruption courtesy of Strife: Makers of hate and discontent©. And by, Joy: Makers of deep-seated well-being©. I’ve even devised my own tagline for advertising the limited virtues of Greek mythology: Greek mythology: Making Astrology look like a hard science…or… now you can have it both ways. In fact that’s the only way you can have it.
The creative process I use in writing involves rearranging the many magnetic letters on my refrigerator to form words which I then rearrange to form ideas that I eventually flesh out into an interesting and coherent theme (See my recent novella: Amputee Plans Afoot). The success of this creative process will not be evident here. There will be no coherent theme because, after all, we’re dealing with mythology – a topic so labyrinthine and completely made up it defies description.