Zeus: The Apology
'The rape of Europa' (El rapto de Europa), 1772, Francisco José de Goya y Lucientes. [o]
I came of agelessness just after heaven and earth were formed, when there weren’t any rules yet about behavior, since I’d hardly made any. If someone broke an oath, I threw a thunderbolt — that was one of the few. Nor was there any “workplace culture” on Olympus to speak of. That’s no excuse, I know now. I will leave it for others to judge whether the fact that my father cut off my grandfather’s genitals and flung them in the ocean and ate all my siblings makes any difference. One way or another, clearly I have needed channel some kind of insecurity, and over the last few weeks I’ve asked Athena to put together a phalanx of gods and mortals to help me wrestle with those demons that come with the territory of being able to mess with everything at will. It doesn’t happen overnight.
Please do not blame her for forcing you to wander the earth forever being stung by a gadfly.
But let me address the stories told to the media by four brave women named Leda, Io, Europa, and Danaë, who felt able to name themselves, if not those accusations leveled by Leto, Demeter, Thetis, Mnemosyne, and the hundreds of others who preferred to remain anonymous — smart women and good lays all, for whom I have nothing but the utmost respect. As Ganymede, he will confirm that I have already make him whole for his “cup-bearing.” We remain friendly.
These stories are true. At the time, I told myself that because I always asked first before blinding a woman with the sight of my full splendor as Lord of the Sky, it was OK. Yesterday I learned otherwise. We will all be sitting down soon with the Furies to see what kinds of remedies are out there.
'Leda and the Swan', Peter Paul Rubens (1577–1640). [o]
Leda: I shudder to think that you interpreted the caress of your thighs by my dark swan webs as anything other than a frank infatuation with your intellect. I totally accept that you did not “lead me on” (although even your mother said, “Are you going out like **that**?”). And if you did somehow understand the consequences of what I thought were shared feelings at the moment I came — the Trojan War, etc., — that didn’t necessarily compensate for your terror and my falling asleep so fast afterward. I get it. “Indifferent beak,” c’est moi.
Io — or “10”, as I used to call you in all genuine affection — I’m mortified to think I wrapped us in a dark cloud in broad daylight without your consent, though it was a pretty standard prank back then, as was turning you into a heifer the second Hera caught wind. Of course I was lying when I told you I’d never seen you before, and naturally she knew you didn’t buy that little bell for yourself. Playing the horndog with one of her own priestesses was inexcusable. Duh. Please do not blame her, therefore, for forcing you to wander the earth forever being stung by a gadfly.
Io was a beautiful girl living in Argos, central Greece. Zeus saw her, fell madly in love, and disguised himself as a cloud. [o]
I owe a special apology to Europa, you who so innocently encouraged your young friends to mount my broad, chestnut-bright back, touching in gentle wonder my horns like the crescent moon, breathing in the flowery fragrance of my magic dander as I licked your nut-brown feet. The dolphins, Nereids, and Tritons who appeared to normalize the abduction have been called enablers, but let’s face it, only the bull was at fault there — and I am not that bull. My lawyer wanted to argue that since I’m not, I can't be held accountable. That sounded right to me, actually, but Chiron put his hoof down. I am on a journey for sure.
And why on earth I imagined I could move on Danaë as a shower of gold coins and get away with it . . . Yes, they remain a good diversifier to stocks and bonds, but you deserved so much more than a relationship with change. I am really, really sorry.
Jean François de Troy (French, 1679 - 1752 ), 'The Abduction of Europa', 1716, oil on canvas. National Gallery of Art, Washington.
All that conceded, some of what has been said is plain wrong. For instance, I would never have become a chicken to seduce a wowan who had made herself into a rooster when she saw me coming.
As I have admitted, however, there is enough truth in these stories to make me profoundly ashamed. I’ve brought pain to my family, my friends, my gazillions of offspring and their mothers. So after consulting with Edith Hamilton, I have decided to take a leave from rain-making to earn back your trust.
A Cyclops wrote: “I’m not half the man I used to be/Oh, I believe in yester-me.” I agree. But while I feel ghastly about those I have hurt, my travels, in whatever guise, have also changed me. I’ve spent time with grieving mothers, with laid-off satyrs whose jobs have gone to other satyrs, and people from all walks of life who just want a better future. I have gotten to know the great people and features of our planet, and I’ve been humbled by the faith they have had no choice but to place in me, given my prerogatives. I’m grateful to have at least this latest chance, and swear I will not blow the reckoning.
Good night, and good luck with that. ≈©
'Danaë' (Hermitage), Titian (1553-1554), oil on canvas. 120 × 187 cm (47.2 × 73.6 in).
PRIMER ON ZEUS, LEDA, IO, EUROPA & DANAË
ZEUS was the first of the gods and a very imposing figure. Often referred to as the “Father of Gods and men”, he is a sky god who controls lightning (often using it as a weapon) and thunder. Zeus is king of Mount Olympus, the home of Greek gods, where he rules the world and imposes his will onto gods and mortals alike.
Zeus fell in love easily and had many affairs with various women, however he would severely punish anybody who attempted to escort or fall in love with his wife HERA (who was also his sister).
When he seduced the Spartan queen LEDA, he transformed himself into a beautiful swan, and two sets of twins were born.
IO was another woman to whom Zeus fell in love and made her suffer. She was a beautiful, young girl and a priestess of goddess Hera. When Zeus saw her he fell madly in love. Disguised into a dark cloud, Zeus made love to her. When the jealous Hera learnt about this relationship she turned Io into a cow to keep her away from Zeus. Io was about to suffer many misfortunes until she was finally turned into a woman again and have a normal life.
EUROPA was a woman of high lineage who Zeus, being enamored of her, decided to seduce or ravish (the two being near-equivalent in Greek myth). He transformed himself into a tame white bull and mixed in with her father's herds. While Europa and her helpers were gathering flowers, she saw the bull, caressed his flanks, and eventually got onto his back. Zeus took that opportunity and ran to the sea and swam, with her on his back, to the island of Crete. He then revealed his true identity, and Europa became the first queen of Crete.
Zeus desired the childless DANAË, and came to her in the form of golden rain which streamed in through the roof of the subterranean chamber and down into her womb. Soon after, their child Perseus was born.
'Zeus: The Apology' is shared from the New York Review of Books, January 18, 2018.
PRUDENCE CROWTHER is on the editorial staff of the New York Review. She is the editor of Don't Tread on Me: The Selected Letters by S.J. Perelman. Her recent work is included in Mirth of a Nation: The Best Contemporary Humor, Mitchell J. Rosen, editor.