October 8 To 14 Edition
Special Essay: Myth Universe,
It’s been a hard day’s night and Prometheus just finished molding the first humans from clay, and then suddenly Zeus declared that he will not give them fire. Prometheus, who sided with him during The Clash of the Titans, was immortally offended, so he smuggled fire in a dried fennel and gave them to mankind, like the mythical Robin Hood, and that’s why today we have barbecues.
Prometheus was chained to a rock as punishment but was eventually freed after an out-of-court settlement. But Zeus, who seduces maidens and young boys including Ganymede, had another trick up his toga: he sent him Pandora, whose beauty and cunning was made in heaven. Prometheus’ brother Epimetheus married her, and she opened – not a box, that’s a myth – the jar she’s carrying, and out came all the bad stuff that torments humanity. That explains why we are in such a mess today.
Venus, March, Saturday, Nike – all these names came from myth, so does Amazon.com and Mercury drugstore. “Hell, even hell comes from the name of the Norse goddess Hel, ruler of the icy underworld,” says Kenneth C. Davis in Don’t Know Much About Myths: Everything You Need To Know About The Greatest Stories In Human History But Never Learned. The fresh insights and meticulous research are obvious like Circe’s spell which transformed Odysseus’ sailors into swine, and it’s super fun to read because it showcases the most unerring sign of first-class writing – the unexpected.
I know Hercules, Theseus, Jason and the Argonauts, not personally, but I also don’t know much about myths, until now. Now I know that Zeus and Leda had two kids: Pollux and Helen – as in Helen of Troy, whose boyfriend was Orlando Bloom whose brother was Eric Bana who was killed by Brad Pitt. That same night, Leda, Sparta queen and two-timer, sleeps with her mortal husband and conceives Castor and Clytemnestra, who would eventually marry King Agamemnon, who would lead the Greeks against Troy. Small world, full of showbiz intrigues too! To raise the ratings of this soap opera, Castor and Pollux were destined for stardom as The Gemini Twins.
The key to immortality is to become a legend. First though, you need publicity. Clear ahead of the pack is Gilgamesh, the demi-god king of the Mesopotamian city-state of Uruk and “sex machine,” whose self-titled epic poem is the oldest in all of literature. Gilgamesh, however, was a tyrant: forcing his subjects to work non-stop to build the city walls. There are written records of his existence and conflicting archeological evidence that his great wall was built at least a thousand years before his reign at around 2600 BCE (Before the Common Era). “That means,” says Davis, “Gilgamesh may have also been the first politician given credit for something he hadn’t actually done.”
The citizens of Uruk prayed for help and the gods created Enkidu to assassinate the king. The two wrestled and became BFF – Best Friends Forever. “Some authorities,” says Davis, “suggest that their friendship, like that of Achilles and Patroclus in the Iliad and of the Biblical David and Jonathan, may be homosexual.”
Myths define a culture and strengthen national identity and pride. Celtic history is full of insights including how to perform human sacrifice. The Celts are nomads across Europe with their Druid priests having a reputation for loving the outdoors, drinking the blood of their victims and eating their flesh. When Julius Caesar executed Vercingetorix and conquered the Celts, the only surviving stories came from Ireland, their last stronghold before they were converted by St. Patrick. These include the tale of Cuchulainn, the national hero of Ireland, and how an earlier race called Tuatha went underground and became leprechauns.
Then there’s Finn MacCool, another Irish folk hero who guested in the poems of William Butler Yeats and the James Joyce maverick novel Finnegan’s Wake. Finn, in one legend, battles the evil goblin Aillen, who tries to burn the king’s palace at Tara on Samhain night. This annual festival, from the night of October 31 to the entire day of November 1, marks the ends of harvest and the start of winter, a time when the wall that divides the living and the dead vanishes like a ghost.
The Celts celebrate Samhain by building large bonfires and offer sacrifices while wearing costumes. The Romans masked this by declaring November 1 as All Saints’ Day, or the Middle English Alholowmesse, which became All-hallows. The night of October 31, naturally, would be All-hollows Eve, or what we trick or treat today as Halloween.
Myth is like The Force: “It surround us, it binds us, it penetrates us,” in the words of Jedi Master Yoda – who sounds like Grover of Sesame Street – in Star Wars, which was influenced by myths, says George Lucas. To illustrate: Sigurd is the most significant human hero of the Norse, renowned for his exploits with his magic sword Gram – which mirrors king Arthur of England and his Excalibur – and the cursed golden ring stolen from a hobbit.
Sigurd’s adventures inspired Nibelungenlied, the Germanic epic starring Siegfried, who also slays dragons like the mythical St. George. The Nibelungenlied inspired Wagner’s opera cycle The Ring of the Nibelung, which inspired JRR Tolkien to write The Lord of The Ringstrilogy which inspired Peter Jackson to film Elijah Wood as Frodo Baggins
Myths transcend civilizations and their characters will be household names for generations to come. We know that Thor is the Norse god of the sky, a Marvel superhero and a cross-dresser. One day, probably Thursday, which came from his name, a giant stole his boomerang hammer Mjolnir in exchange for the goddess Freyja to be his wife. Thor and the trickster god Loki disguised themselves and went to the wedding. The giant was shocked by his future wife’s incredible appetite, but her handmaiden explained that she hasn’t eaten in eight days in anticipation. He was touched, and then the bride grabbed the hammer, crushed the groom and massacred the guests.
Thor’s father is the chief god Odin, who sends the Valkyries to select the warriors worthy to enter the Valhalla, the Hall of the Slain, in his home Asgard, and they would join his army, the Berserkers. Loki’s son Jormungand, a giant serpent, would kill Thor by drowning him in venom. His other son, Fenrir, a giant wolf, will swallow Odin, a.k.a. the Germanic god Wotan, probably on a Wednesday. Meanwhile, Loki will trigger the war that will end the world – the Battle of Ragnarock.