Posts Tagged "Greek"

The Story of Oedipus (and the Sphinx)

Dear Kid,

You’ve heard about the Oedipus Complex (being in love with your mother in a less-than-generally-acceptable-way). Now, ‘tis time to learn the original story.

Once upon a time, there was a king names Laius. Being That Sort of king, he consulted the oracle at Delphi to find out if his wife, Jocasta, and he would have children. Really, you’d think people would have learned better than to talk to oracles, because—as we know—oracles are always right but they tend to confuse the issue.

The oracle said that they would be paying a visit to the maternity ward, but that their son would kill Laius.

So did they practice safe sex? They did not. Once Jocasta had popped the baby boy out, Laius and Jocasta rethought the whole being-killed-by-his-son thing. Jocasta gave the baby to a shepherd and told him to leave the baby out in the mountains to die. The shepherd didn’t follow directions and the baby ended up being adopted by King Polybus and Queen Merope in Corinth.

Eventually, someone told Oedipus he was adopted. Rather than searching the internet for info on his parents, Oedipus went to Delphi to Learn More.

At Delphi, Oedipus learned that he was destined to kill his father and marry his mother. Oedipus thought that meant Polybus and Merope so rather than heading back to them in Corinth, Oedipus hopped in an Uber Chariot and went in the other direction, toward Thebes.

When will they learn? The oracle is always, always right.

On the way to Thebes, guess who he ran into? No, don’t guess, I’ll tell you. He ran into Laius, only sort of literally. There ensured An Argument about which charioteer had the right of way (road rage, ancient Greek style), and Laius and Oedipus got into a fight. Guess who won? No, don’t guess, I’ll tell you. Oedipus killed Laius.

Parents: 0; Oracle: 1.

Continuing his travels, Oedipus came upon the Sphinx (this was before she was turned to stone in Egypt). The Sphinx asked all travelers a question; if they could answer it, they were allowed to continue on; if they couldn’t, she ate them. Yum.

The Sphinx asked all travelers a question; if they could answer it, they were allowed to continue on; if they couldn’t, she ate them. Yum. DearKidLoveMom.comThe Sphinx asked Oedipus the same question: What walks on four feet in the morning, two in the afternoon, and three at night? (I’ll give you a minute if you want to think about your answer.) Oedipus answered the question correctly, saying: Man (who crawls on all fours as a baby, walks on two legs as an adult, and uses a cane in old age). The Sphinx threw herself off her rock because she was an Extremely Poor Loser.

When Oedipus got to Thebes, news of him defeating the Sphinx had already reached them (good news traveled fast even before Twitter) and Oedipus was welcomed with open arms, named King, and wed to the widow Jocasta (who you may remember was his momma and was now a cougar).

Parents: 0; Oracle: 2.

Years past, babies were born, and famine hit Thebes. A messenger was sent to Delphi to find out what had gone wrong. According to the oracle, the land was suffering because King Laius’ killer hadn’t been caught and prosecuted.

Oedipus (who was now the King) cursed the killer and swore to exile the villain. Only they had no idea who the villain actually was. So they called in Tiresias, the old blind prophet. Tiresias told Oedipus not to ask questions. Oedipus insisted (and as King he could be quite insistent). During the ensuing argument, Tiresias provoked Oedipus into revealing that he was the killer in question and that Oedipus didn’t know who his birth parents were.

More arguing.

Then in burst the proverbial messenger, with the news that King Polybus was dead. At first, Oedipus was relieved because it meant he couldn’t have killed his “father”. Oedipus refused to attend the funeral so that he wouldn’t see Merope and somehow make the second part of the oracle come true (remember, Oedipus couldn’t see the scoreboard from his vantage point).

Finally catching up, Jocasta realized that Oedipus was her son, so she did the only reasonable thing and hanged herself. As Oedipus learned the whole truth (that he had in fact killed his father and married his mother), he did the only reasonable and appropriate thing: he took the brooch from Jocasta’s gown and stabbed his eyes out.

Following that, the now blind ex-king (you knew they’d get rid of him, right?) fled, and went to Athens guided by his daughter, Antigone, so that Sophocles could write plays about them.

Love, Mom

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Why Winter? Demeter Knows Best | Persephone Snacks

Dear Kid,

Once upon a time, there was no such thing as winter. This distressed skiing enthusiasts but pleased everyone else since snowplows hadn’t been invented yet.

Meanwhile Demeter, the goddess of the harvest, wandered around the earth wearing flimsy gauze dresses and making the crops grow. Somewhere along the line, she and Zeus had a daughter named Persephone.

Persephone was lovely and Hades, the god of the underworld noticed. Hades invited Persephone to leave the lovely topsoil and dwell (and by “dwell” I mean dwell) with him in the underworld.

Persephone had eaten exactly 6 pomegranate seeds. (Hey—sometimes a girl has to snack.) DearKidLoveMom.comPersephone said thanks but no thanks. You remember that gods don’t like being told no, right? Hades lifted an eyebrow and said, “No?”

Persephone raised both eyebrows and repeated herself. Hades frowned, picked Persephone up, threw her over his shoulder, and took her back to the underworld.

Persephone was not happy. Demeter (her mother) was even less happy. Demeter raged, she ranted, and then she went into a full-fledged funk.

Have you ever seen a goddess funk? Not pretty. And when Demeter funked, the whole world funked with her. Plants turned brown, crops withered, and people went hungry.

Now Zeus was pretty good at ignoring things he didn’t care about, but with the whole world hungry sacrifices to the gods weren’t being made and that got his attention.

Zeus went to talk sense into Hades (and by “sense” I mean tried to talk him into giving Persephone back). Hades refused. They argued. Finally, they consulted the rule book.

According to the Rules, if a person eats while in the underworld, they are stuck there forever (keep that in mind during your travels).

They quickly scoured the various meals Persephone had refused to eat—and discovered that she had eaten exactly 6 pomegranate seeds. (Hey—sometimes a girl has to snack.)

Zeus therefore decreed (being the chief number one honcho god he got to do the decreeing) that Persephone would be returned to her mother for 6 months of the year, but for the other six (one for each aril) she would have to return to Hades and the underworld.

Therefore, for six months of the year the earth is warm and happy. Plants bloom and crops are bountiful while Demeter is happy having her daughter at home. The other six months, Persephone returns to the underworld and Demeter returns to her snit. The earth is cold and barren. You might think Demeter would have gotten over it by now, but you’d be wrong.

It’s a mom thing.

Love, Mom

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Sisyphus | The Man, The Myth, The Rock

Dear Kid,

Once upon a time, in a not-so-nice part of Greece (back in the time of Mythology), there lived a king named Sisyphus. By the sound of his name you might think that he was bullied a lot. You would be wrong because he was meaner, nastier, and more powerful than anyone else. Also he was king and had a lot of soldiers at his command.

Sisyphus had lots of bad habits like chewing with his mouth open and killing travelers and guests. (Killing guests back then was an especially Wrong Thing To Do.) But Sisyphus had a marvelous time being a despot and decided that Manners weren’t going to intrude on his tyranny.

For reasons that are complicated and not all that interesting, Zeus got good and mad at Sis. Zeus ordered Thanatos to chain up Sisyphus in the lowest level of Hades.

On the one hand, Thanatos was a minor figure in Greek mythology. On the other hand, he was Death, so chaining people in Hades was well within his job description.

Sisy didn’t really like the idea of being chained up, so he tricked Thanatos by asking Thanatos (who after all wasn’t the god of wisdom) to demonstrate how the chains worked. Flattered, Thanatos obliged and Sisyphus trapped Thanatos in the aforementioned chains.

Back in the rest of the world, while Thanatos was chained up no one could die. For a short time, this wasn’t a big deal, but people were pretty accustomed to Death, especially the warriors who liked to see people die (because that was the whole point of fighting). Ares (our favorite god of war) was particularly put out, so he freed Thanatos and turned Sisyphus over to him.

Because of his trickery in this and other things and his hubris in thinking he was more clever than Zeus (have we not been clear that it is never wise to think you’re smarter/prettier/stronger than one of the gods), King Sisyphus was punished. And the Greek gods were known for their ability to punish people.

Sisyphus was made to push an enormous boulder up an even more enormous hill. Only just before he got to the top, the enchanted boulder would roll away from him and to the bottom of the hill. Rinse and repeat for all eternity.

Love, Mom

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Marshmallows, Oompa Loompas, Gladiators, and Peeps. Really.

Dear Kid,

“You is tough. Like marshmallow.” Actual Quote

Marshmallow plant. DearKidLoveMom.comOnce upon a time, there were no marshmallows. Then the Oompa Loompas visited Egypt, and bam! mallow plants growing in the marshes were harvested. Back then, it was a honey candy that was flavored and thickened with marsh-mallow sap. So basically it was exactly like today’s marshmallows. The same way that mastodons are like parakeets.

Because the ancient Egyptians made the marsh mallow candy for gods, nobles, and pharaohs, it was a crime for anyone else to eat the treat. The Greeks and Romans were crazy about the mallow. Hippocrates swore by it (get it?), and it was used to cure everything and s’more. (I am hilarious today.) Gladiators used to rub sap from the plant onto their bodies before fights. I have no idea why, but it’s a cool fact.

Until the 19th century (I remember it well), doctors cooked marsh mallow root juice with eggs whites and sugar, and then whipped it into a frenzy, or at least a meringue. Marshmallows were considered medicinal and used to cure sore throats.

Then modern manufacturing got involved and got rid of all the mallow in marshmallows. (So the only medicinal thing about them today is the chocolate used in s’mores). Marshmallows are now made of yummy goodness like corn syrup (or sugar), gelatin, gum Arabic, a little corn starch, and flavoring. And air. Lots of air. Delish.

Marshmallows in its natural habitat.
Amur-cans eat a lot of marshmallows (primarily stale peeps). To be specific, we eat about 90 million pounds of marshmallows each year. And when you think about the amount of air in each marshmallow, that is a freakin’ boatload of marshmallows.

You is tough. Like marshmallow.

Love, Mom

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