19th Sep 2012
Legend Has It: My Favourite Greek Goddesses
Shrew! Jealous nag! Bitter! The names that are often slung at powerful and outspoken women in a male dominated world. Thus it was with my favourite of the Greek Goddess’ Juno.
She was Queen of marriage, women and childbirth to count just a few of her attributes, and in Pre-Hellenic times was so powerful that she was worshipped as the main divinity.
Juno, wife of Zeus gets a lot of bad press and this is one of the main reasons her influence has dwindled. Portrayed as the embittered nagging wife at home, Juno became a figure of ridicule and yet she stayed faithfully by Zeus’ side despite his countless betrayals and indiscretions.
Juno remained loyal to those important to her and we can see her compassion in the tale of Argos. Zeus seduced a nymph Io and turned her into a white heifer to escape Juno’s detection. Clearly white heifers were on Juno’s cheating scumbag husband radar however as she had Io chained to a tree and guarded by Argos, her faithful 100 hundred eyed servant.
Zeus sent Hermes to lull Argos to sleep and then kill him. According to Ovid, to commemorate her faithful watchman, Hera had the hundred eyes of Argos preserved forever, in a peacock’s tail. Fast forward to the 21st century and we can catch a glimpse of Juno in Germaine Greer or any woman who speaks out publicly against the injustice of double standards.
My second favourite Greek Goddess is Athena. Goddess of wisdom, courage, inspiration, law, justice, warfare, strategy…the list goes on. She would be one of those people on Twitter whose inspired description makes your own look like the laboured squiggle of a moron.
Athena was Zeus’ daughter and sprang fully grown from the King’s head, eternally his favourite and allowed to play with Zeus’ weapons including his thunderbolt.
I admire Athena because even though she was multi-talented she was never conceited. She used a calm intelligence as the myth of the contest between herself and Poseidon shows. Cecrops, King of Athens wanted a patron deity for the city. Both Poseidon and Athena applied. You can imagine the Curriculum Vitae. Cecrops asked both Gods to offer the city a valuable gift.
Poseidon, God of the sea, struck the ground with his trident and created a well but the water was salty. Athena planted an olive branch creating the olive tree, symbol of peace and a tree that is so distinctive on the Greek landscape to this day. Cecrops chose Athena and the city was named after her.
My third favourite Goddess has to be Demeter, lesser known but so deserving. She is Goddess of the harvest and fertile earth, marriage and the cycles of life and death. Let’s just call her big mama. Demeter wasn’t without her secrets, having mysterious cults and festivals, one of which was only open to women and still continues to this day in Greece.
Demeter stole into my affections with the myth about her daughter’s abduction. Persephone was stolen from her mother by Hades, ruler of the underworld. Demeter, grief stricken searched the earth and her quest alone deserves a medal or a reality TV series. While she scoured the globe for her daughter, she neglected her duty to the harvest, life withered, extinction beckoned.
Zeus sent Hermes to the Underworld and demanded the return of Persephone. Hades agreed as long as Persephone hadn’t eaten anything. Alas, Persephone wasn’t a Hollywood dieter and had eaten seeds of a pomegranate. Therefore she had to remain underground in Hades a certain number of months every year but upon her return to the earth, Spring bloomed and the harvest flourished.
The myths of the Greek goddesses circulated largely through worship, song and storytelling. It was with real delight that as a child I read about these colourful characters dwelling on Mount Olympus; their feuds, love lives and acts of vengeance or compassion.
I enjoy the same rich prose reading classic and contemporary Greek authors, because the Greek culture and descriptions of the beautiful landscape can’t fail to permeate through the pages.
Sometimes, however, that joy is bittersweet. Because like the goddesses, some of these writers were passionate and loyal to their families and country even at the cost of their own lives.
Penelope Delta was an influential children’s author whose books continue to shape Greek national identity. She committed suicide the day the Germans entered Athens during the Second World War.
Maro Douka is a famous Greek author whose debut novel The Cauldron is based on her imprisonment at the hands of the Military Junta in 1967.
Lilika Nakos, Galateia Alexiou-Kazantzakis and Tatiana Stavrou are other notable female authors who paved the way for modern Greek feminists like Nina Rapi, award winning playwright and Editor-in-chief of Brand magazine.
Strong women have always existed as mythology shows. What we read and how it influences us, well, that is in the lap of the Gods.
Which are you favourite Greek legends? Which modern Greek writers do you feel reflect the modern circumstances in Greece?
Guest post from E J Russell, whose latest novel Return to the Aegean is available on Amazon at £8.09 in paperback.