As part of my official break from the School of Communications and Theater, I decided to take a Greek and Roman Mythology class. So for you, I present a quick lesson of ancient mythology in case your knowledge of the subject is limited to what you learned while watching Disney’s “Hercules.”
First of all, the movie is based in ancient Greece, so technically his name should be Heracles (Hercules is Roman). Secondly, his mom is the mortal Alcmene, not Hera. Zeus had a wandering eye and cheated on Hera many times, so rightfully Disney cut that part out. Hera actually hated Heracles. Go figure.
Here’s the cool stuff the movie doesn’t talk about.
Christians and Hebrews take the beginnings of their religion from the Old Testament or Torah. Muslims take them from the Quran. The Greeks are not as concrete and take their mythology from oral tradition. The primary written source of mythology was Hesiod’s Theogony, written in the 8th and 7th century B.C.
Hesoid wrote that all gods begin from chaos. Chaos creates five offspring, the most important of which is Ge (Gaia), essentially Mother Earth. Ge pops out mountains, the barren sea and the sky (Uranus).
I don’t know about you, but after three virgin childbirths – especially with kids the size of the sky – I would demand my next batch get begot by intercourse.
Two of Ge’s children have 18 kids – take that Kate Gosselin – including 12 Titans. One of the Titans, Cronus, mates with his sister and they have six kids together: Demeter, Hera, Hades, Poseidon, Hestia and Zeus.
Zeus overthrows Cronus and becomes king of the gods, taking Hera as his wife. From there, there’s more inbreeding and the mega-soap opera begins.
Of course there are crucial components left out, namely the theme of overthrowing the father figure, but I wanted to let you know about the generations. I highly recommend researching more if you’re interested.
Unfortunately, many in our dominantly monotheistic society perceive mythology as merely storytelling. Until I took this class, I had never really thought about it as full religion.
For example, Zeus and Hera had one son together, Ares (Mars), the god of war. Ares then had twins, Romulus and Remus. According to myth, the two were nursed by a she-wolf on Earth, grew up, and then Romulus founded Rome after killing Remus. Sounds a bit like Cain and Abel, doesn’t it?
To the Greeks and Romans, mythology explained human existence, history and nature.
After the clash of the Titans, the defeated giants were buried under islands. They tried to break free, which explains why volcanoes erupt. Apollo and Hyperion rode on chariots of fire across the sky, which explains why the sun travels. The list goes on.
These should not be dismissed so quickly as a simple lack of knowledge. However, by science we know the Sun is not a god and there are no giants under volcanoes, but we can still appreciate where these ideas come from.
Whether you believe the story of Adam and Eve, Chaos, the Big Bang Theory or a combination, one can hardly argue the beauty of our Earth came from nothing.
Monotheism and polytheism are not so distant. Zeus, for example, was the only omniscient god, who saw everything. Don’t we interpret Yahweh and Allah in the same way today?
Zeus created other deities, demigods and mortals. Don’t many of us believe similar things? Do people not follow the spiritual teachings of Moses, Mohammad and Buddha, all humans? Is it merely a coincidence there were 12 Titans, 12 Olympians and 12 Apostles?
Rome is home to thousands of years worth of religious warfare. One has to wonder if gods are sitting somewhere up in the sky shaking their heads, not caring about their interpretation so much as our faith.
Matthew Flocco can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.