Echo and Narcissus

There’s so more to the Narcissus story than the modern-day application of the word: narcissist. It’s a tragic tale of heart-wrenching unrequited love.

The story begins with Echo, a mountain nymph, who loved the sound of her own voice. Caught distracting Zeus’s wife, Hera, while Zeus was getting busy with another mountain nymph, she was cursed to lose her voice: never to speak again unless spoken to, and only then to repeat the last words spoken. The distraught and lonely Echo wandered the hills and glens until one day, she encountered the youthful and handsome god, Narcissus, hunting stag in the forest. Enraptured by his beauty and grace, yet unable to initiate a conversation, she followed.

“Who’s there?” he asked, finally.

“Who’s there?” she repeated.

Narcissus called, “Anyone here?”

“Here…” Echo answered.

Looking around, he saw no one. “Why run away?”

Upon hearing his own words repeated once again, he cheated the answering voice and interrupted. “Join me here.”

Never gladder to answer, she said, “Join me here.”

Emerging from the forest, she rushed to him and threw her longing arms around his neck.

“Keep your arms from me,” Narcissus rebuffed, pushing her away. “Be off! I’ll die before I yield to you.”

“I yield to you…” Echo replied with the only words she could say.

Shamed and rejected, she dwelled in desolate caves and ravines. Her love endured, however, growing on grief until all that remained was her haunting voice and petrified bones. Thus Narcissus had spurned and mocked her, and many others after. Until one day, another scorned would-be lover raised her hands and prayed to the gods. “So too may he love, and never win his love.”

Nemesis, Goddess of Revenge, heard the prayer and deemed it worthy, cursing Narcissus to fall in love with himself. Upon seeing his reflection, he wasted away at the banks of a still pond, unable to attain the object of his affection. Any words of love he uttered to himself, Echo hollowly repeated back.

The tale ends with Narcissus, overwhelmed with grief, thrusting his hunting knife deep into his own heart. From his spilled blood — Behold, white petals ’round a cup of gold — the first narcissus flower grew.

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Odysseus and Polyphemus

(Excerpt taken from The Dodona Prophecy)

Ryan stood high on the volcanic ridge, searching the landscape.  The one-eyed giant appeared mid way up the slope and lumbered away.  He had a long stick in his hand, like a weapon.

Ryan frowned, unable to shake the feeling that he was living a scene right out of Homer’s Odyssey — the tale of Odysseus and Polyphemus.

Trapped in the cyclops’ cave, Odysseus had lost many men to the man-eating giant. But there was only one way out and Polyphemus had it blocked with a giant boulder, moving it aside only twice a day: once to release his sheep in the morning and the other to admit them at night.

Eventually, Odysseus devised a clever ruse to escape. Befriending the giant, he and his remaining men inebriated Polyphemus, then speared him in the eye with a sharpened stick.

Hearing Polyphemus’s yells of agony, the other cyclopes on the island rushed to his aid. When they asked who’d hurt him, Polyphemus replied, “Nobody,” as that was the name Odysseus had given the cyclops while sousing him with wine. So they left.

The next day, Odysseus escaped with his men, clinging to the belly of the sheep as the blinded Polyphemus checked their backs when releasing them.

Departing the island, fuelled by triumph and hubris, Odysseus yelled back his true name. “Nobody can defeat the great Odysseus.”

Ryan took a deep breath, wondering what misadventures lay ahead. One thing was for sure. If he and Mandy ever managed to escape the cyclops, there was no way he’d taunt it like Odysseus — earning him Poseidon’s wrath, thwarting his homecoming for some time.

Ryan shook his head.  Not very smart, was it Odysseus?

The Oracle of Zeus at Dodona

Though not as famous as the Oracle of Delphi, the Oracle of Dodona — arguably the oldest of all the Oracles — was likely just as powerful, if not more so.  It was Zeus’s Oracle, and Zeus was king of the gods.

Few places on earth are considered to house a spiritual vortex.  Dodona in Greece and Sedona, Arizona are two examples.  Many who visit them feel a strong connection to a higher power, be it mother earth, Gaia — the personification of earth in Greek mythology — God, or something else.

Pre-dating the stadium, temple and other architectural elements at the site, a sacred oak grew at Dodona.  Selli priestesses would lay at its roots with unwashed feet, divining prophecy from the rustle of its leaves.  Was it Gaia’s voice they heard?

In, “The Dodona Prophecy”, readers are taken to the Oracle of Dodona in ancient Greece where Mandy meets the Selli priestesses, experiences a vision, and learns more than she set out to.

Persephone and Hades

The original myth goes something like this:

Persephone, having stopped to smell the flowers, was abducted by Hades and taken to the underworld.

Her mother, Demeter, searched high and low for her.  For nine days and nine nights she scoured the earth, but to no avail.  Distraught, she left Olympus and hid among the mortals, disguised as an old woman.

With Demeter — goddess of the harvest — no longer smiling her blessing upon the earth, crops withered and died.  Humanity faced starvation.

Zeus pleaded with Demeter to return to Olympus, employing every tactic he could think of.  But there was only one thing that would appease her — the return of her daughter, Persephone.

Finally, Zeus relented, forcing his brother, Hades, to release her.

Hades was angered but not defeated.  Unbeknownst to all, once food from the underworld has been consumed, the person who ate it is committed to return.  In that vein, Hades made Persephone eat a pomegranate before setting her free.

Henceforth and ever after, Persephone spent one third of every year in the underworld.  And up to this day, crops seasonally wither and die in that block of time known as winter, when Demeter no longer smiles upon the earth.

—-

But what if Persephone was misunderstood?  What if Demeter had it wrong?

In The Dodona Prophecy, the Persephone, Demeter and Hades myth is twisted into the plot, offering a fresh new look at this legend.

The Legend of Io

Her head suddenly heavy, Io looked down at her bony legs and clunky hooves. Moments earlier, Zeus had caressed her shapely — decidedly not bovine — form. Like many of her nymph sisters the world over, Io simply couldn’t resist the king of gods.

She knew the risks. Hera, his wife, had a habit of showing up at inopportune times, leaving a trail of cursed adultresses and coconspirators in her wake. And now here she was.

Really, Zeus — a cow? He could’ve transformed her into anything. A graceful swan. An eagle. But a white heifer? That hurt.

Oh, no. Here she comes, Io thought, lowering her head.

Hera stepped forward, glared at Zeus, and then at her. Io could tell by the look in her eyes, she wasn’t buying it. What would Zeus be doing with a cow?

Io’s stomach clenched. This wouldn’t end well.

She dipped her tongue into the river at her feet, and lapped at the water, trying to act the part. How did cows drink anyway?

Her ear turned to the conversation, dreading what she might hear. A quiver shook her hide as she waited for the axe to fall.

Hera’s voice was cold. “Zeus, husband. Who do we have here?”

Io forced herself not to look.

“To whom do you refer, dear? The white heifer?”

Silence. Never a good sign. Io began to sweat through her hide. She stopped licking at the stream. She couldn’t swallow anyway.

“Get back to Olympus, Zeus. There are urgent matters to attend to,” Hera said.

There was only one god who could get away with issuing a command to the king of gods and she was standing right there.

“I’ll be along shortly,” he said.

“Now. Unless there are matters here that demand your attention. The white heifer, perhaps?”

He was trapped — faced with admitting his indiscretion or leaving her to face Hera alone. It didn’t take him long to decide.

“Fine. I’ll go.”

With an ear splitting crack, he was gone.

Io didn’t move. Maybe if she prayed hard enough, Hera would let her live — not that that was such a great prize. She was a cow. Wasn’t that punishment enough?

Finally, Hera spoke. “Do you think me an imbecile?”

Io turned to face her. Shamed. Penitent… Sorry.

“You nymphs just can’t keep your filthy hands off my husband, can you? You shall serve as an example to the others. I see Zeus has already done half the job for me, you fat, lumbering cow. You may live as such, with my blessing.”

Hera uttered a hex of some kind. Io flinched at a sharp pinch on her hindquarters.

“And that is my blessing,” Hera said. “This stinging gadfly shall be your constant companion, to remind you of your folly. Now, be gone.”

Io lumbered away, feeling the welt of the first sting swell as the sting of another pinched again.

Epilogue (from the Greek legends):

Io roamed the earth for many years, tormented by the stinging gad fly. At a particularly low point, nearly driven mad, she came across Prometheus, bound to a rock at the shores of the black sea. An eagle was forever eating out his liver — punishment from Zeus for giving man fire.

Despite his pain, Prometheus was kind to Io, assuring her that she wouldn’t remain a heifer forever. Someday she’d be transformed back to human and be part of the ancestry of a great hero, Hercules.

Eventually, Io did escape across the Ionian Sea to Egypt where Zeus transformed her back to human. Both the Ionian sea and the Bosporus are named after the legend of Io. (The Greek translation for Bosporus is cattle-passage, where Io crossed the strait before meeting with Prometheus.)

Athena and Zeus Backstory

In The Medusa Legacy, my debut fantasy thriller series, I weave a modern-day tale into some popular Greek myth. Below, I have provided some backstory relevant to the first two books involving Zeus and Athena.

Zeus:

Upon hearing a prophecy that his offspring with Metis, Goddess of Wisdom, would rule the heavens, Zeus was more than a little worried. That was his job and he wasn’t near ready to relinquish it. He’d worked hard to attain his new position as king of the Gods, ruler of the heavens. And knew all too well what it took to get there.

It had been a Herculean task, wresting rule from his father’s hands, but Cronus needed to go. Out with the Titans, in with the Olympians.

So, when his wife became pregnant, quite possibly with a child that would usurp his newly acquired position, Zeus took action. Borrowing a page from Cronus’s handbook on how to deal with threat and uncertainty, he swallowed his pregnant wife whole.

Why risk it? Problem solved.

Athena:

Athena’s relationship with her father, Zeus, was understandably strained. She’d spent her entire youth imprisoned inside of him. That was no way to rear a child.

Not to mention, he never did relinquish her mother from his fleshy tomb. That hurt.

God of Justice, she seethed. What had Metis ever done to him?

With no nurtured maternal instincts, Athena eschewed the whole nasty motherhood business, declaring herself a virginal Goddess.

Men? Children? Who needed ’em.

Goddess of War? Sure. What the hell.

Goddess of heroic endeavor? Sure… Might come in handy someday.

So, Athena, more than a little pissed, kept her sentiments to herself. Preferring the indirect approach, she was too smart to go toe-to-toe with the king of Gods. There were other ways to hurt the old man.

Zeus:

“Son of a bitch! Do it! Do it now!” Zeus commanded his son, Hephaestus, to cleave apart his skull with the double-bladed axe. The pressure in his head was more than he could bear.

With a flash of light and shower of gold, Zeus’s cranium split open and Athena sprang free, fully armored and ready for battle. Her battle cry pealed over the island of Rhodes, announcing her arrival.

Zeus pushed his skull back together, his ears ringing from the banshee wail of Athena’s release. Raising his thunderbolt, he considered for a moment to take action. But she was a woman. No threat there.

Besides, she reminded him of Metis; they’d been good together once. Maybe he’d been hasty in swallowing her before he’d even known whether she was bearing him a son or a daughter.

Yet, over time, as Zeus got to know Athena, he started to question the wisdom of letting her live. At every turn, she undermined his command. His friends warned him of giving her too much latitude, letting her disobedience go unchecked for way too long. He was running out of patience.

From the moment of her emergence, Zeus’s and Athena’s relationship ranged from uneasy truce to opposite sides of the epic conflict of Troy (Athena and Poseidon siding with the Greeks; Zeus with the Trojans). The backstory blurb above demonstrates there are two sides to every story.

In my first book, the Medusa Deception, Zeus’s tolerance of Athena’s actions and her inner motivations are brought to light, uncovering more deception and knife-twisting than was ever known.

In the sequel, the Dodona Prophecy, the conflict between Zeus and Athena comes to a head, with Mandy caught in the middle.

I get a kick out of researching the ancient myths, reading between the lines and putting my own spin on them. I hope you enjoy them too.

Please watch for The Dodona Prophecy, book two in the series, due out in 2015.

Sincerely,
The Myth Twister