Posts Tagged "myth"

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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The Story of Tantalus, DearKidLoveMom Style

Dear Kid,

Once upon a time, there was a blank page in the book of Greek mythology, so a story was written to fill it. This is that story.

As you probably guessed, it’s not a happy story because it’s Greek mythology and we have all that pathos to deal with. Also, the Greeks didn’t see a lot of benefit in telling happily-ever-after stories.

And the Greeks were human, so they messed up.

Most of them messed up on a human scale and we don’t know anything about them. Occasionally, someone would mess up on a colossal scale, and BAM! myth.

Here’s one of those stories.

Tantalus was a King. His dad was Zeus, and which made him half-deity, but it turns out that when you’re a twit being half a god is insufficient. (Remember, Zeus had about half a gazillion half-mortal children.)

The gods liked Tantalus (no clue why, except possibly because he could hold his liquor) so he was frequently invited up to Olympus for dinner.

If you had been invited into the Olympus kitchens, and if you’d happened to look in the pantry, you’d know that pretty much all the god ate and drank was ambrosia and nectar. Repetitive, yes, but on the plus side, it’s the food of the gods and therefore pretty dang yummy. Not available at your local McDonald’s.

Being something of an idiot, Tantalus stole some ambrosia so that he could impress his mortal friends.

The gods did not like that, but they didn’t really punish Tantalus. Instead, Zeus had A Serious Talk with his son who promised to behave himself.

He lied.

Adding to his rap sheet, Tantalus branched out from theft and told some Very Important Secrets that Zeus had confided in him.

Think that’s OK? Er, no.

Within a short amount of time, Tantalus had proven that he wasn’t really the Best of All Possible Personages. The gods (for reasons no one can fathom) continued not punishing him thinking he’d learn and start acting his age.

Apparently stealing ambrosia is a gateway crime because then Tantalus went overboard. And when he went overboard, he went big time.

Tantalus invited all the god of Olympus over to his palace for dinner. Either he ran out of food (unlikely—he was King) or he decided to test his guests.

He killed his youngest son, Pelops, roasted him, and served him. Ewww.

Demeter (you remember her) wasn’t paying attention and nibbled some shoulder. The rest of the gods didn’t eat. And when you combine hungry with disgusted with divine anger, you go way beyond hangry.

Zeus immediately went from “Awww, kids will be kids” to ranging fury. He restored Pelops’ life (Demeter made him a nice arm of ivory since she’d eaten his original appendage).

Then Zeus decided to punish Tantalus. First he crushed Tantalus and his kingdom (presumably not Pelops, but I’m not sure). Then he got serious about punishing.

Zeus took Tantalus to the lowest level of Hades and put him in a lake. A lovely lake full of sweet water with a fruit tree branching over the lake right to where Tantalus was imprisoned. Then Zeus cursed Tantalus with hunger and thirst. Yet whenever Tantalus bent to drink from the lake, the water moved away from him. And when he reached for some of the fruit, the tree moved the branch just out of his reach.

Tantalizing story, no?

Love, Mom

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What Is the Gordian Knot?

Dear Kid,

Once upon a time the Phrygians didn’t have a king. Very careless, forgetting where you put your king. So they did the only reasonable thing and consulted the Oracle at Telmissus. The oracle decreed that the next man to enter the city driving an ox-cart should be crowned king.

What have we said about ignoring oracles? Right. So when Gordias the Peasant came into the city driving his ox-cart, the people immediately made him Gordias the King.

Since kings rarely have need of an ox-cart, Gordias dedicated his cart to Zeus and tied it to a pole with the World’s Most Complicated Knot.

The Gordian Knot was slightly more complicated than this. DearKidLoveMom.comThe oracle then predicted that whoever Undid the Knot would rule all of Asia. Since oracles are always (emphasis on ALWAYS) right, many a person came to try to untie it. This was great for tourism and nail salons (it was not possible to untie the Knot and many people broke important fingernails trying).

On and on this went and everyone was reasonably happy with the status quo except all the people who didn’t untie the knot. Although since no one else could untie it, and there were plenty of manicurists, no one got too futzed.

Eventually (historians disagree about how many years are in an “eventually”), young Alexander the Great came to Phrygia. A the G was The Dude of the time and planned to conquer pretty much everywhere (Asia Minor is most definitely part of “everywhere”). Alex took a look at the Knot, realized the ends were missing, re-read the plaque (all tourist sites have plaques), and then took out his sword and sliced the knot in half.

Alexander the Great went on to conquer Asia Minor. Because, oracle. Also, he was a really incredible battle strategist.

To this day, Gordian Knot refers to a complex problem, and cutting the Gordian Knot means finding a ridiculously simple solution to a crazy looking problem.

Love, Mom

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Holiday Music, Orpheus and Eurydice

Dear Kid,

Happy Music Time of Year! Holidays and Orpheus DearKidLoveMom.comJust in case you hadn’t been paying attention, it is a musical time of year. More than any other time of year, the whole world (and by “the whole world” I mean everywhere I go) is playing holiday music. As long as they avoid the singing chipmunks (yes, I know there’s a new movie, and no, I don’t plan to go see it) and the barking dogs, I’m pretty happy with holiday music.

Speaking of musicians (I wasn’t really, but it would be polite of you not to bother pointing that out), Once Upon A Time, there was a musician named Orpheus. He was a Greek and famous (you can tell he was Greek because of the “pheus” and you can tell he was famous because I’m talking about him lo these many years later).

Orpheus was the greatest of all mortal musicians (remember, dearest, that one doesn’t want to boast about being better at anything than the gods). Not only did people stop whatever they were doing to listen to him, animals did as well. Even the rivers stopped running and the rocks stopped rocking to sit still and listen when Orpheus sang.

Orpheus sailed on the Argo, and performed all sorts of musical magic on that voyage, but that’s not today’s story.

Eventually, Orpheus fell in love with Eurydice (she was a wood nymph but Orpheus was in love and didn’t care about her habit of being part tree), and Orpheus and Eurydice decided to get married.

On their wedding day (either right before or right after depending on which version you read), Eurydice was bitten by a viper (ouch) and died. But Orpheus was in love and didn’t care about her habit of being dead, so he decided to go to the underworld and get back his bride.

Taking his lyre (he was a most extraordinary musician you will remember), Orpheus set out for the underworld.

What I don’t understand is how all these heroes managed to find the underworld. It’s not like they had GPS back then. And there weren’t a lot of signs saying “This Way to the Underworld” like there would have been if the entrance to Hades was in Las Vegas.

Back to our story. While he was wandering around, Orpheus the Brokenhearted was playing sad, sad music. So sad that the gods got together and said “This is worse than barking dogs Christmas carols! Someone show him the entrance to Hades!”

Down to the underworld went Orpheus. At every obstacle, he played his lyre and sang beautifully and charmed the pants off his way through. Eventually, he got to Hades and his wife Persephone (it was that time of year and she was in residence). Orpheus played for them and they agreed that he could take Eurydice back to the Land of the Living.

But (you knew there had to be a “but” right? This is Greek mythology and happily ever afters aren’t in huge supply). But there was a condition. Eurydice would follow Orpheus on the long and treacherous hike back up, BUT he must not look back at her along the way. Not even once. Not even a tiny peek. No matter how much he wanted to. No peeking at all.

This seemed like a no brainer to Orpheus mostly because he didn’t have a choice. Off he set, playing his lyre to keep the scary things away and to let Eurydice know where to follow.

Have you ever been told not to do something? Have you ever been told not to do something that is the One Thing In the World, Nay, the Universe that you want to do more than anything else? It’s hard not to do. It gets harder the longer you have to refrain from doing it. It gets even harder if you don’t really trust the people who told you not to do the Thing. Orpheus was having a hard time.

He strained to hear Eurydice behind him. He heard nothing (mostly because shades don’t make any sound when they walk) and partly because he had to keep playing. Orpheus kept walking.

He really, really, really wanted to look back and make sure Eurydice was there. But he didn’t dare because he knew he would lose her forever if he so much as peeked. Orpheus was having a Really Tough Day.

Finally, finally Orpheus reached the entrance (or in this case the exit) to the underworld and stepped out into the glorious sunshine. (Trust me. If you’ve been to the underworld, even a gloomy day will seem like glorious sunshine.)

As soon as he stepped out, Orpheus spun around to see Eurydice. BUT (you knew there was a “but” right?) she was still on the path in the cave. He had turned too soon, and no sooner had he seen her when—whoosh—away she faded, murmuring “farewell.”

Orpheus (of course) tried to rush after her and (of course) was not allowed to (one trip to the underworld per live musician).

Life pretty much went downhill for Orpheus from there. He wandered around the world (and by “the world” I mean ancient Greece) avoiding people and playing for the animals, trees, and rocks. This was wonderful for the animals, trees, and rocks, but rocks are rarely asked their opinion and almost never listen to when they give it. Which makes them perfectly qualified to be music critics.

Eventually, the Maenads ripped him limb from limb. His head went on to be an oracle and the Muses buried his body at the base of Olympus where—to this day—the nightingales sing more sweetly than anywhere else.

If you happen to be traveling by the base of Mount Olympus, be sure to stop and listen to the nightingales.

In the meantime, hope you hear good music today.

Love, Mom



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Venus, Cassiopeia, Orion, and Unhealthy Vanity

Dear Kid,

If you happen to live in this hemisphere, and if you happen to be awake early enough in the morning that it is still dark, and if you happen to be outside, and if it happens to be reasonably cloudless, take a moment to look up.

Right now, Venus is shining so brightly it hurts. You can tell it’s Venus because it is far too bright to be a star and it’s not moving particularly quickly (you might think it’s an airplane, but it’s Venus).

I love the constellations this time of year. Cassiopeia is one of my favorites. This is probably my favorite time of year for stars. I love seeing Orion and Cassiopeia (she’s the one that looks like a W [unless it’s an M]) in the sky. They are larger than life this time of year and wonderful fall constants.

I’m guessing you don’t know the story of Cassiopeia. So, being the kind of mom I am, I shall tell it to you.

Queen Cassiopeia was the wife of King Cepheus. She was beautiful and vain (you know that when you add Queen plus Mythology plus Vain the story is not going to have a happy ending for the queen).

Cassiopeia boasted that both she (Cassiopeia) and her daughter (Andromeda) were more beautiful than all the Nereids, the nymph daughters of one of the lesser sea gods. Again, if you think you’re more beautiful than a god’s daughters, if you ARE more beautiful than a god’s daughter – perhaps especially if you are – keep your silly mouth shut about it. Look beautiful, be humble, live long.

Not so much for Cassiopeia.

She made her views on her beauty perfectly clear. And Poseidon (head god of the sea) got royally annoyed.

An angry sea god is not a trifling matter, what with him being in charge of floods, earthquakes, and sea monsters all of which can severely damage the infrastructure of a country and the inhabitants therein.

So Cepheus (the king) and Cassiopeia (the queen) decided to consult an oracle to find out What To Do. And once one (or in this case two) has consulted an oracle, one had best do what one is told because otherwise why did you ask?

The oracle said to sacrifice Andromeda. “Oh, the waste of such beauty,” said Cassiopeia, “but at least it’s not me.” So they chained Andromeda to a rock at the edge of the sea where she could look beautiful and await a sea monster.

Fortunately for Andromeda, Perseus happened to be flying by with his borrowed winged shoes (he’d just killed Medusa), and being a Hero kind of guy he rescued her and eventually married her.

To recap, everyone was now happy except Poseidon who thought that Cassiopeia had just weaseled her way out of a red card. So he tied her to a chair and stuck her in the sky in such a way that she is right side up half the time and upside down the rest of the time.

No word on whether Cassiopeia likes rollercoasters or gets sea sick when she’s upside down.

Enjoy the fall stars. And Venus.

Love, Mom

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