Saturday, January 24, 2009

Oddities in Antiquity - Birth Stories

Long before Thomas Beatie walked the earth, Zeus himself was giving birth to children. Indeed, there are two "odd" birth stories from Zeus - that of Dionysius and that of Athena.

Zeus had taken for himself a lover by the name of Semele, the daughter of Cadmus (the House of Cadmus is popular in Greek literature). Zeus and Semele conceived a child. Hera, being her usual self, was jealous of Zeus' affection for Semele and told her, basically, "Zeus doesn't really love you; if he did, he would show you his full glory." Semele begins to think Hera's right and so when she sees Zeus the next time, she asks him for a favor. "Of course you're carrying my son - whatever you'd like." She asks to see him in his full glory - Zeus responds that that isn't a very wise idea. She insists. Zeus then shows her his full radiance, lightening bolts and all. Semele, being a mere mortal, cannot handle it and dies. Zeus takes the fetus from her womb, cuts his leg, inserts the fetus, and sows it up. A few months later, Dionysius...

The second odd birth story is that of Athena's. Zeus hears a prophecy that he will be usurped by the offspring of Metis (the goddess of wisdom). So, up on Mt. Olympus one day, Zeus challenges Metis - he basically bets her that because she is so great (oh, you flatterer you...) that she could not turn herself into something as insignifcant as a fly. Metis, up to the challenge, does exactly that and is swallowed by Zeus. However, 9 months later Zeus realizes he has a rocking headache and out of his head bursts Athena in full battle gear.

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