Posts Tagged "mythology"

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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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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You Are Not Going to Believe This About Frogs

Dear Kid,

I woke up with the Frog Song running through my head (frogs here, frogs there, frogs were jumping everywhere). It left lots of webbed footprints in my brain and I thought, “Wouldn’t it be a good idea to write to the Kid about frogs today?”

No, it wouldn’t.

I discovered (as I sipped my most excellent Buckeye Buzz coffee) that My Friend the Internet has not organized weird facts about frogs into a nice sanitized version suitable for moms to read before breakfast.

Instead, there are a lot of froggy facts that are designed to keep 8 year old boys happily making gross noises for hours. And while I do not begrudge those children their hours of fun, neither do I wish to learn about frogs using their eyeballs to swallow their food before I’ve had mine. Food that is.

Since real life was off the table (amazing how often that happens in my world), I decided to delve into the land of fiction for frog info. DearKidLoveMom.comAnd that was one of the tamer factoids.

Since real life was off the table (amazing how often that happens in my world), I decided to delve into the land of fiction for frog info. Turns out there are a lot of frogs in fiction, including Frog Thor (I kid you not), various frogs who are really princes, and Trevor (of H. Potter fame). You may have fun making your own list of frogs and toads if you have nothing better to do at the moment. I’ll wait.

The most important frogs (and by “most important” I mean “my favorites”) are Kermit the Frog and his nephew Robin. They sing. They dance. They are adorable. They are kind-hearted. They invite self-centered pigs into their lives. And not once have they talked about using their eyes to swallow their food.

Hope any frogs you encounter today manage to keep their hygienic, digestive, and reproductive habits to themselves.

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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