Zeus was a man-whore.
That’s pretty much what the majority of Zeus: A Journey Through Greece in the Footsteps of a God by Tom Stone confirms. The title of this blog comes Ovid’s Metamorphoses and was used as the introductory illustrative quote for chapter 10, “The Cretan Saga.” It could have been used in several other chapters. However, this commentary on Zeus’ prolific sex life is no new news to anyone.
As for the book itself, it’s an interesting read. It’s pretty darn funny at points (if a bit unnecessarily euphemistic), as there is something innately funny about the randy King of the Gods. Tom Stone opens by explaining that the whole reason for this trip in Greece was to take in the sights of the important parts of Zeus’ life: his birth, his death, his resurrection, his many affairs (that produced children), his oracles, and a few of his temples. It left me a little disappointed that there was less of the “I was there” element, seeing as this was how the book began.
However, the pulling together of the convoluted mythic/religious and societal/cultural histories of Zeus worship is impressive nonetheless. It is amazing that this man can keep enough in his head just to be able to know to research everything in this book. I was floored. The few moments of “I was there” were enlightening and very well strung in.
The book is not, thankfully, hopelessly academic. There are some very odd spellings of the Greek names, ones that I’ve never run across in my studies as a Classics minor. However, I will admit that the Roman alphabet does not lend itself well to Greek words. The sounds are just different enough to make the transition difficult. I would have been quite happy to see the names in Greek, but I realize that’s not quite feasible. It also would have stretched my brain a little bit and made the reading slow going. (That’s it, I need to take more Greek classes. Gee darn.) So, other than the odd spellings, the academic aspects are quite wonderful. The footnotes are well placed, there are fantastic notes in the back, deemed to be too long to be in the footnotes. There’s also a topical index. It was very handy when I wanted to review Dionysus’ addition to the Olympian pantheon. In the front, there is a map and a chronology that–while I never felt the need to consult them–were fun to see and I can only imagine they would be helpful to those who get lost in the muddle that is the mythic history of Zeus. The chapter introductory illustrative quotes were well picked. And, when it came to communicating all the different legends that surrounded Zeus, I was extremely pleased that there were none I felt to be slighted.
One of the aspects I enjoyed was the Christian crossover. In many ways, I feel as if Stone derides the Christians for the amount they stole from Classical mythology, but I can’t blame him either. I ascribe to the school of world religion that feels all religions come out of the same wellspring and that it is a confirmation of truths that there are so many similarities. I know this is not a popular worldview, though, and I understand how frustrating it can be to feel as if so much of today’s society goes mis-credited. I certainly was not offended (Stone has nothing on Campbell’s digs) and there is much that is enlightening within the crossovers.
The book is divided into four parts. The first is the establishment of the deity that came before Zeus, only called the Great Goddess. This gives a rich context to the stories of Zeus, as well as a unique perspective to all of his many affairs. Zeus spent the first several centuries of his worship fighting against the great goddess. Much of his sexual conquest was establishing himself as the God of the World and the reigning power. The second is his birth, death, and resurrection. It’s a short section, but once again gives a vital context to his exploits in section three: The Father. And are there ever exploits. This part covers not just him, but his children/grandchildren as well, so a great many Greek heroes and the Olympians are well introduced. It truly is a shame that Jason wasn’t born of a god’s line, I missed having him around. Part four, The Holy Ghost, deals mostly with the Christian influence and how Zeus petered out of daily life into an almost monotheistic god, then finally was consumed in and adapted to the Christian tradition.
I was most entertained by Zeus, and would happily read it again. This account of the mighty god is fascinating. Yes, Zeus was an incredibly imperfect figure, but he lives on through the ages. And this book gives just the slightest inkling of the grand scope of the life of a god.