Beware Greeks Bearing Christmas Gifts

The phrase “Beware Greeks Bearing Gifts” came about because of the Trojan War saga. The Greeks had the Trojans under siege for 10 years. The war ended when they infiltrated them with the “Trojan horse.” They pretended to retreat and left a large wicker horse. It was brought into Troy. Greek soldiers were hidden inside the wicker horse and overran the Trojans.

It’s a wonder that modern Greeks haven’t maintained the tradition by giving gag gifts each Christmas.

However, there is a modern Greek folklore about the kallikantzari. They are goblins that tease and harass Greek family homes during the 12 days of Christmas. A priest’s blessing drives them out on January 6th.

I figure the kallikantzari are a carryover of the “beware Greeks bearing gifts” ethos. That spirit of mischief had to be channeled somewhere.


Hestia the Goddess of Paradoxes

Hestia, the Goddess of the Hearth, is the most domestic of the Olympians, but she is full of paradoxes.

She was the firstborn of the Olympians. Her father was worried his children would overthrow him and devoured his wife’s babies whole. Zeus rescued his siblings and the fact she was the first swallowed meant she was the last to emerge. That’s why she’s called the “first and lastborn of the Olympians.”

She is the most domestic of goddesses but took an oath to remain a virgin. This makes her domestic yet unmarried.

The fact she is a goddess of the hearth makes her a fire goddess. Fire gods and goddesses in other pantheons are often temperamental. Yet she is the steadiest and most sensible of the Olympians. She is known for visiting mortal towns but there are no stories about her striking anyone down in anger. She treats her visits as pleasurable, harmless outings. No worse than a modern housewife enjoying a shopping trip to a market she likes.

The fact she remains in the background means these paradoxes are often unnoticed. Her attributes portray a balanced approach to power. This was Ancient Greek’s ideal for civil society and authority. She kept things running so smoothly her presence was barely noticed.

She was called “Vesta” in Roman Society. Vestal virgins served in her shrine for a 30-year term. When they retired they were allowed emancipation from their fathers. Perhaps the fact they were one of the few women allowed autonomy meant they were the only women trusted with it. Sensible Hestia was a fitting patron for such women.


Hermes the Civilized Trickster

Hermes was the trickster of the Greek pantheon. He stole Apollo’s cattle when he was born and invented the lyre as compensation for it. It was like being born with ADHD.

His main job was to be a messenger of the Gods even though they already had Iris, Goddess of the Rainbow, for that.

They piled other duties on top of this as if these sidelines were a frantic attempt to keep him busy.
He was a psychopomp who ferried souls to the Netherworld. He was the patron of thieves and travelers. It’s hard to know if he took up these sidelines as hobbies himself. They could’ve been assigned to him by the Olympians to keep him too busy for mischief.

I wasn’t surprised when I found out he was the great-grandfather of Odysseus another Greek trickster. What was surprising is there weren’t more tricksters among his descendants.

Hermes must’ve been at his most dangerous when he was bored so the Olympians kept him busy. This was a civilized means of channeling his energy. It saved them from banishing and ostracizing him from Olympus. No wonder the Ancient Greeks responded the same way to his descendant to Odysseus. Odysseus was put to work devising battle strategies instead of pranks.

Essay:Athena the Crafty Mentor

The Odyssey shows two instances of Athena engaging in gender-bending. This was necessary because of the low status of Ancient Greek women. Though the Greeks made a goddess the patron of wisdom.

She assumed the guise of a two wise men to advise Odysseus’s son Telemachus how to rule Ithaca and his household. These two men were family friends and Athena used their forms to get Telemachus to listen to her. These mythic episodes brought the term “mentor” into the language.

I’m surprised there aren’t more instances of Athena using gender-bending. Perhaps the Ancient Greeks didn’t want to admit they wouldn’t recognize the voice of wisdom when it spoke?

Most times she gives heroes advice as herself. It’s as if a female must have divine prerogative to speak out in Ancient Greek society. The male Olympians could amuse themselves in mortal guise and still be heard. A goddess has a voice as a goddess but needs to assume the form of a man if she wants anyone to listen to her as a mortal.

Basically Athena did this to move freely in human society and see them in their natural state. She could awe them into respecting her as a goddess but it would’ve been too troublesome to go about as a mortal maiden. That’s why she used the form of respected family friends and elders to speak her piece.

These episodes are necessities of the narrative. There is no hint she has any proclivities she wants to indulge with her male disguises. The fact she has to disguise herself makes me wonder why they bothered having a Goddess and not a God of Wisdom. Then again she might’ve had to learn to be “crafty” to get her way instead of blasting everyone who ignored her.

However, that doesn’t mean Athena never lost her patience. I dramatize this in “The Weft and Warp of Hubris” in A Heart for Hubris.

Did Cupid Ever Stop Being a Mama’s Boy?

You’d expect a God of Love to be bold in the pursuit of love. Yet Cupid is reluctant to pursue someone if he must oppose his mother. So the girl who’s so lovely she’s mistaken for a love goddess disappears.

Everyone knows Cupid’s mother is Venus/Aphrodite. His father is unknown. His Dad could be his mother’s husband Hephaestus/Vulcan. It could be her lover Mars/Ares. It could even be some mortal man who caught her eye. It’s inferred other Olympians have hooked up with her too. Either way Cupid is considered a full god and not a demigod.

No one considers this state of affairs improper for a Goddess of Love. Cupid’s unknown paternity causes him to cling to his mother for his identity. He’s like he’s a mortal child with a single mother and absentee father. Given these circumstances it’s only natural Cupid goes into the family business. He becomes a God of Love.

There’s no legend that shows Cupid having any angsty identity crisis. They do show him being a “mama’s boy.” She overshadows him so much that only a maiden who usurps Venus’s worship can catch his eye. He marries Psyche in secret. Psyche is abused by his mother when their secret marriage is discovered. Despite all this Psyche is added to the Olympian pantheon when he finally speaks up for her. He exchanges favors with the Elder Gods to have make her an immortal.

Perhaps he spoke up for Psyche because she proved her love for him by undergoing trials. Maybe his heart was moved by the imminent birth of their daughter since Psyche was pregnant at the time.

The legend of their courtship says he was pricked by his own arrow when he first saw Psyche. Is this a way for Cupid to deny any responsibility for choosing her as his mate or else to show the blindness of love?

Such ambiguity makes it hard to know if the Psyche and Cupid legend is a coming of age for him. Cupid carries out his share of duties with no more bids for independence from his mother. For Psyche’s sake I hoped they worked together as co-partners. Married life would be miserable if he still blindly obeyed his mother.

I can’t argue for any particular interpretation of the Cupid and Psyche myth. However, my own version of their courtship shows him learning to accept a more active role. “Cupid’s Intrigue” is in my A Heart for Hubris release. A flashfic of when she first catches his eye will debut tomorrow on this blog.

Why isn’t Eris a War Goddess?

Eris, Goddess of Discord, is best known for starting a beauty contest that began the Trojan War. You’d think this incident would serve as the credentials needed to get Eris called a war goddess? Some details from her Wikipedia entry answered this question for me. She’s useful in small doses but needs to be kept in check. These are my thoughts on the matter:

Maybe the Ancient Greeks could only imagine “shrews” in a civil society like Olympus. Only barbarians had fierce warrior women. The closest they have to a war goddess is Athena. She knows how to wield weapons and construct battle strategies. Yet she also weaves like any good daughter should.

Eris may not be “mighty” like Aphrodite, yet she doesn’t allow herself to be dissed. When she wasn’t invited to a feast, she crashed it. She offered a golden apple to the most beautiful of goddesses. This left the Olympians with the problem of figuring out who deserved that honor. They in turn delegated the decision to the mortal Paris. Each goddess, even Aphrodite, offered a Paris a bribe. This means that not even Aphrodite can be said to be a clear-cut winner of the contest Eris instigated. Offending Eris caused even more discord than leaving her out. Eris often gets dismissed as a minor goddess, but can be dangerous if you try to ignore her. The Olympians aren’t in the mood to give her more honor than they feel she deserves.

Perhaps, placing Eris in a war goddess role would make her too powerful? The Iliad equates her to a bloodthirsty goddess Enyo that starts small and grows in size into Godzilla proportions during wars.

Eris is treated like a quarrelsome woman and she-demon most times. Though there is reference to a goddess of strife credited with giving people ambition. She inspires people to change and improve the status quo. This could mean an out-and-out war or create talented statesmen, entrepreneurs and inventors.

The Enyo and the Strife goddesses are treated as similar but separate to Eris. Yet what if these goddesses were incorporated as aspects of her personality?

My theory is Eris has her place in the Order of Things but has to be kept in check. Which is why she won’t be promoted to a war goddess position. Eris is a minor goddess. Yet her nuances shows the richness of classical mythology.

Eris becomes a surprising benefactor in my release A Heart for Hubris. The “Eris’s Discord” flash fiction goes live here tomorrow.

January 2018-Free Scifi Writing Prompt

These are the type of scifi writing prompts you’ll see in my upcoming scifi writing prompt releases in 2018.

What if this became a sport? Or a nation’s military policy was based on the outcome of this competition and there were passionate interested parties on both sides?

Are Robots Better Pilots? NASA Pits Human Pilot vs. AI And Here’s What Happened

You can see which scifi prompts I’m writing up in the Khiatons Monthly/Update mailing list