The Olympians And The Tragedy They Bring
As an avid fan of the Riordanverse, this was a topic I just couldn’t resist. The Greek, and any mythology for that matter, is at its core a collection of tales of misery, strife, tragedy, and pain put together with the events they spurred on. To choose one or two would be an impossible task, and so today, we will talk about a handful of the many lovers of the Olympians. Read to the end because it only gets more and more tragic!
The Olympians are the twelve major deities of the Greek pantheon, known to very actively interfere with the lives of mortals for their amusement. As a result, they’re known to have sired enough partly mortal children to make up a whole civilization, and just as many creatures and minor deities. Today though, we’ll try to keep to the more innocent love tales.
First up, is the King of Gods himself, Zeus – the God of thunder, lightning, and the skies. His wife remains to be only Hera – the goddess of marriage, women, and family, protector of women in childbirth. The irony is almost funny, because the Goddess of pure unions was never able to protect her own, as Zeus fell for pretty much every other attractive princess there was. A paragraph or two isn’t enough to talk about the strife he wrought upon his lovers and the girls he tricked and forced into reciprocating his love. One general pattern remains throughout the tales – Zeus finds a new temporary object of love, Hera finds out, Hera tragically brings about the girl’s demise or destroys her life in some way or the other to teach Zeus a lesson, Zeus saves the girl’s unborn children if any and returns to Hera, only for the loop to repeat itself.
Two prime examples: Semele, princess of Thebes, whom Hera tricked into asking Zeus to show his true form, resulting in her incineration due to her mortality. Since she was pregnant at the time, Zeus rescued her unborn son and nourished him till his birth, and he later grew to be the God Dionysus. Leto, a Titaness, wasn’t allowed to give birth to Zeus’s twin children, Olympians Apollo and Artemis, until she could be assisted by Eileithyia, the goddess of childbirth, on the island Dallas.
Hera – Queen of Gods – is often portrayed as a villainess due to her many acts of revenge on Zeus’s extramarital lovers and children, but her vengefulness seems understandable, especially because as the Goddess of marriages, she was always loyal to Zeus. On the other hand, though, it is true that she has a cruel streak and has done a lot of questionable things like throwing her son, Hephaestus, off Olympus because he wasn’t the best looking.
Next, the brother of Zeus and equally powerful God, Poseidon – God of sea and water, earthquakes, patron, and creator of horses. Though no one can compete with Zeus in his infidelity, Poseidon was no more gentlemanly when he set his mind to attaining love. Though consorted to Amphitrite, he had many lovers who either loved him and bore him offsprings or ended up in a different form, be it through a boon or a curse. Since we’re talking about tragedy, let’s talk about some of these form changes.
Caenis was a woman of great beauty, so much so that she attracted the lust of Poseidon, who had his way despite her strong unwillingness. Unable to bear her disgust, she requested Poseidon to reward her by turning her into a male, and he agreed, thus giving rise to the warrior Caenus, who was so courageous and skillfully trained that he had to be crushed to death by multiple centaurs together, after which he got turned into a bird.
Another time, Goddess Demeter attracted Poseidon’s fervor. To escape him, she turned herself into a mare, but he in turn turned into a stallion and cornered her, and again had his way.
It is impossible to talk about Greek tragedy without talking about Medusa, the snake-haired hideous monster with a petrifying gaze. Not many know her tragic tale though. Medusa, once an extremely beautiful maiden, devoted herself to the service of Athena, the Goddess of wisdom and knowledge. To be a priestess of Athena, it was an absolute must to be of top discipline and remain a virgin bachelorette. These conditions Medusa accepted wholeheartedly and buried deeply her childhood love for Iphicles. Her charm and allure brought along Poseidon’s craving, and he chased her down to satisfy it. To escape him, Medusa ran into the temple of Athena, which just helped Poseidon hit two birds with one stone – to insult Athena by his vulgar actions right in her temple and get back at her for becoming the patron deity of Athens despite his efforts, and to satisfy his desires and yet again have his way. Outraged, Athena cursed Medusa, turning her into the creature she is now reputed as. Medusa was finally put out of her misery by Perseus, a Greek hero who slew her, allowing Pegasus and Chrysaor, her unintentional children with Poseidon, to be born.
The next most powerful God, Hades, God of the underworld, the dead and precious jewels, brother of Zeus and Poseidon, completes the trio of the most powerful and important Gods who rule the three worlds – skies, waters, and nethers. Surprisingly though, he is the most faithful God and stayed loyal to his wife Persephone for the most part.
Covering the twelve Olympians would make this piece of writing a whole short story, even with three of them being maidens sworn to celibacy. To avoid that, we’re going to wrap up with one last Olympian, the aforementioned son of Zeus and Leto, Apollo – the multifarious God of prophecy, poetry, archery, music, disease, and healing, the driver of the Sun itself, patron of Oracles and more. Apollo fell truly in love with two – naiad Daphne and Spartan prince Hyacinthus, besides others like Roman emperor Commodus.
Apollo was unable to hold himself back under the influence of Eros, the Greek origin of today’s ‘cupid’, and his advances on Daphne caused the nymph to run away instead of him. Just as Apollo almost had her in his arms, she reached her father, river God Peneus, who quickly turned her into the very first laurel tree on seeing her desperately. With Daphne’s physical form and communicating abilities gone, the spell was broken and Apollo’s libido gone, leaving behind only his true love and realization. Now filled with unbearable regret and sorrow, Apollo used his powers to make the laurel an evergreen tree. He made the first ever laurel wreath to symbolize victory over obstacles and was always depicted wearing the wreath after, even making laurel the primary plant used in his Oracles’ worship.
Hyacinthus was a breathtakingly gorgeous young prince who attracted the attention of many deities as a result. Of all his mortal and divine suitors, Hyacinthus reciprocated Apollo’s love alone. This sparked the jealousy of another God who loved him – Zephyrus, the God of the west winds. When Hyacinthus was spending one evening learning to throw a discus from Apollo, the jealous God of west winds deflected a discus thrown by Apollo, causing it to strike Hyacinthus on the side of his head with enough force to kill him. Apollo, distraught and grief-stricken, created a fragrant and vibrant yet delicate flower from the blood of his lover and named it hyacinth after him.
Since we’ve already covered some major tragic stories of the lovers of three Olympians and three more are maiden goddesses, that leaves us six more. Maybe I’ll talk about them in another blog another day, but that’s about it for today’s dose of Greek myths. Hopefully, that sparked some interest in this world of tales or mythology in general!
XI B (Blue House)