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Friday, May 27, 2011

Four Romantic Greek Myths by Erin O’Riordan

In ‘The Smell of Gas,’ diner waitress Athena imparts her wisdom through Greek myths. She tells the story of the birth of Aphrodite, the birth of love. Greek mythology is full of power struggles, violence and gore, but there’s also an element of romance. Here are four of the Greek myths most cherished by romantic souls like Athena.

1. Orpheus and Eurydice
She was a beautiful wood nymph. He was a lonely shepherd who amused himself by playing lovely songs on the lyre, ancient Greece’s version of the acoustic guitar. When he first laid eyes on her, Orpheus composed a song just for Eurydice, and it was love at first listen. One day as she ran through the woods searching for him, Eurydice was bitten by a poisonous snake.

Not content to allow his love to languish in the Underworld, Orpheus went to the land of the dead to bring Eurydice back. His audacious campaign was successful, though Lord Hades and Lady Persephone (won over by his songs) made him agree not to look back to see Eurydice until they reached the land of the living. Unable to keep his eyes off her, Orpheus turned to see Eurydice again, and she had to return to the world of the dead.

2. Cupid and Psyche
Psyche was the youngest and most beautiful of three sisters. Her beauty made the local people neglect their worship of Aphrodite, the goddess of love and beauty. Aphrodite appeared to Psyche’s father and demanded the girl be left on a high mountain, where she would be sacrificed. A terrified Psyche made her way to the peak alone. What she found was not death, but the soft breath of the wind, which carried her to a sumptuous palace.

There she married Cupid, the son of Aphrodite, though the bride was never allowed to see the groom. Psyche’s sisters convinced her that if her husband didn’t want to be seen, he must be a terrible monster. Taking their advice, Psyche crept up on Cupid as he slept and held a candle to him. He was the most lovely creature she had ever seen. A drop of hot wax hit his cheek and he woke up, banishing her for breaking the one rule of their union.

Their story does not end tragically, though. A soft-hearted Aphrodite offers Psyche the chance to complete a series of grueling tasks. Psyche rises to the challenge and is rewarded with being made a goddess, reuniting with Cupid. C.S. Lewis wrote a wonderful version of this myth in ‘Till We Have Faces.’

3. Persephone and Hades
Hades, the god of the Underworld, judged the dead all night and day and was known for his heart of stone. That heart melted when he saw Persephone, the young daughter of his sister, the powerful earth-goddess Demeter. Like a gentleman, he went to Persephone’s father, Zeus, and asked for her hand in marriage. Unfortunately, he forgot to inform either Persephone or Demeter of this Zeus-sanctioned arrangement, and Persephone took their “wedding” as an abduction. Yes, this sounds more cruel than romantic. However, in Nigel Spivey’s excellent account in his ‘Songs on Bronze: The Greek Myths Made Real,’ Hades treated her with respect. He offered Persephone the gift of a pomegranate, comparing himself to the fruit: tough on the outside, but secretly full of sweetness.

After the initial shock of transitioning to the cool, dark Underworld, Persephone fell in love with the god, who was every bit as handsome as his more amorous brothers Zeus and Poseidon. In later myths like that of Orpheus and Eurydice, the pair is always portrayed ruling side-by-side as equals, Persephone tempering her husband’s harsh judgments and offering humanity hope of reincarnation.

4. Aphrodite and Adonis
Even the goddess of love herself was not immune from having her head turned by a lovely mortal. Good-looking men are still compared to Adonis to this day. Adonis was off-the-charts hot. Although the goddess adored him, the hottie still had to go out and earn his living as a hunter. Sadly, he was gored by one of the boars. In his dying moments, he sought Aphrodite and died in her arms as she bestowed a farewell kiss. Where each of his bloodied footsteps fell, a beautiful red Adonis flower (also known as pheasants’-eye) springs up every year for eternity. 

Blurb - Love pulp fiction? Just try putting down The Smell of Gas. TSOG is full of saints and sinners you'll love to hate. There's Brigid, the high school basketball player and secret heroin addict. Fred, a Catholic lesbian teen, loves Brigid, but doesn't know about her affair with Edward, a married Evangelical preacher. Sex, ethics, religions and mythologies clash as you dig deeper into their connection to the death of a young couple.

PG-rated Excerpt:
    Athena sat across from him again, reaching behind to place the pot on an unoccupied table. “Let’s start at the beginning,” she said. “The Book of Genesis. It says that in the beginning, God created the light first, and then the sky, the land and the seas. Then the trees and plants, and so on and so forth. Just like that.” She snapped her fingers. “Out of nothing.”
    “That’s what the Bible says,” he agreed. “God split the waters of primordial chaos, creating dry land, and then created the things that live on it. You could say that He created them out of nothing, or that He created them out of His word.”
    “However, it doesn’t say God created the Devil,” she said. “The serpent that tempted Adam and Eve, yes. A serpent is only an animal, though. Do you know what the ancient Greeks used to say, before Christianity?”
    “I read a little mythology in grammar school,” he said. “The Iliad and the Odyssey, I think, but it’s been so many years. I wouldn’t remember…”
    “In the beginning, there was only Father Sky, who called himself Ouranos, and Mother Earth, who was called Gaia. Ouranos saw Gaia, loved her, and made himself one with her.” She brought her hands together to emphasize the point. “The sun, the moon, the ocean– these were all the children of Ouranos and Gaia. They had hundreds more, and they were the grandparents of the gods and of human beings. Ouranos didn’t make any of this out of nothing, and neither did God. There had to be a wife.”
    “Do you really believe that?” Edward asked. “That’s paganism, Athena. You can’t honestly call yourself a Christian and believe that God has a wife.”
    She shrugged. “He had a wife, or She had a husband. Gaia couldn’t do it all by herself either. But do you know what I really think, when I lie in bed at night thinking about it? That God and the Devil were married.”  

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1 comment:

  1. Thank you, Rie, for having me as your guest blogger today!