Antinous for Everybody

Archive for the tag “zeus”

FIC: The origin of make-up sex

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“Jupiter and Juno on Mount Ida” by James Barry, 1776

It is not well known, but it is a fact that Zeus and Hera invented make-up sex.

The first time he wooed another after their marriage (and who was that first? that, nobody knows), Hera was furious. She painted the skies with her rage in boiling red sunsets, lurid green cloud cover, humidity so thick that mortals struggled to breathe. When at last Zeus came home, smelling of a stranger and smiling to himself, she screamed at him in shrieking winds, threw knick-knacks in a hailstorm, and pounded her fists on his stubborn chest. How could he outrage her dignity like this? How could he flout their marriage vows? Had he no respect for her guardianship of marriage? How could he prefer, even for an instant, some mayfly mortal to a goddess, the daughter of Kronos and Rhea?

Zeus defended himself with piles of thunderclouds, with shaking the lightning bolt, with bellowing thunder that rolled for miles over the lands about Olympus. He was the king and father among the gods! Of course he respected her, but his attentions were a blessing to be bestowed widely! Of course he would always come back, no one would ever supplant her on the throne. How dare she question him, the wielder of the thunderbolt, the son who overthrew his father when the others wouldn’t even try? Mortals cowered as the lord of the heavens and his lady fought.

Then the proximity of anger turned into the proximity of passion. Shouting into one another’s faces turned into frantic kissing, each swallowing the other’s angry words. Clenched fists turned into gripping and tearing at each other’s clothing. The pins that Zeus pulled from Hera’s curls fell deep into the earth to become raw ore for the swords of heroes. The winds moaned in harmony with Hera’s pleasure; the thunder boomed with Zeus’s grunts of effort.

And in their mutual climax, the clouds burst and rain fell, soaking the earth, blessing the soil, filling dry creek beds, replenishing deep wells. As the divine spouses slept in each other’s arms, the clouds dispersed, and Iris the messenger of Hera danced on the ramparts of Olympus, filled with the joy of her mistress. Mortals pointed to the hem of her many-colored gown as it rippled in the sky and thanked the gods for their blessings.

Zeus and Hera awoke together, Hera’s hand resting on his bearded cheek, his fingers twined in her unbound her. He kissed her brow. “I shall have many lovers, but only one wife. Use your anger to temper the heroes I will father, and remember that I love you, first and last.”

She laid a finger on his lips. “I will scatter your paramours like seeds before the winds, even if mortals think I am merely a jealous shrew. And all your children will come at last to know me as their mother. But let all our quarrels always end thus, in make-up sex.”

And so it was, and so it is.

Theogamia: Hera and the Cuckoo

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Cuckoo in the storm, poor bedraggled thing,
come here, trust me, and I will warm you.
Lady, your hands are gentle, and your bosom is soft.
I will rest here while my feathers dry.

Cuckoo on my breast, are you hungry, are you thirsty?
Water from my cup, golden crumbs from my plate I offer.
Lady, your cup is deep, and your food is sweet.
I will eat and drink from your hand.

Cuckoo on my hand, what a silly song you sing!
Yet it amuses me to hear you say your name.
Lady, your laugh is lovely, and your breath is sweet.
No other mate I have, so I will sing my song for you.

Cuckoo in my home, how you brighten my shining palace!
Your blue-grey wings, your striped breast, your jaunty tail delight me.
Lady, your halls are fair, your home is spacious,
yet I will always come back to roost near you at night.

Cuckoo on my bed, rest here upon my pillow.
Rest only lightly, that I may not crush you in the night.
Lady, to be near you, I would dare death and more.
I will even dare your wrath when we awaken in the morning.

Stranger in my bed, where has my cuckoo gone?
Whose arm is this, whose leg, whose rampant prick I feel?
Lady, it is I, your cuckoo and your brother,
Zeus son of Kronos, lord of sky and storm.

Cuckoo in my nest, how strangely you have wooed me!
Yet I am still charmed by your antics, nonetheless.
Cow-eyed Hera, lady of sky and cloud,
Will you not marry me? Let us rule together.

Cuckoo of my heart, yes, I will marry you,
but you must be faithful, for I am always true.
Lady of my heart, if you marry me,
you will be the queen of heaven and earth, the noblest goddess.

Cuckoo of my heart, that will do for now.
Come, let us marry, let us tarry together in love.
Lady of my heart, the spring is here, the birds are mating.
Our love shall be the rain that quickens the soft earth.

Oh, oh, oh, cuckoo, cuckoo, cuckoo!
Ah, ah, ah, cuckoo, cuckoo, cuckoo!

A distinguished visitor, part three

Hades did not try to answer the question then, as Hel inclined her head to him and then turned to limp out of his throne room. Nor did he answer it the next time she visited him, and they drove his chariot through the various regions of his realm, talking of their mutual concern with the dead. He was surprised by Hel, again, when he learned that it was her personal concern to feed and clothe all of the dead, to gather those who would come into her hall for a nightly banquet, and in general to be much more personally involved with the shades than he had ever been.

“My people are fewer in number,” she said, with that strange smile that exposed all her teeth for a moment. “The inhabitants of the north are fewer than those of the southern lands, and those who die in battle are taken by Odin or Freya to dwell in their halls, in Asgard.”

“We have places of higher honor here as well, but all in my domain, except for the Isles of the Blessed, and few indeed merit to go there.”

“And you have places of lower honor, too, do you not?” She accepted his hand and stepped down from the chariot, stopping to watch as servants came to unharness his horses and lead them away. “What you call Tartaros?”

“Yes. The prison of the earlier gods who did not wish Zeus to take the throne of heaven.” It was growing easier to match his stride to her unabashed limp. “Not that we created it; the pit of Tartaros existed before the Titans or our father Kronos.”

“Kronos himself was a Titan, was he not?”

“He was. He and his brothers turned against their father Ouranos and killed him.”

“As your brother Zeus subsequently turned against him.” The goddess lowered herself into a chair in the small audience chamber where he had led her.

“Indeed. May I summon food or drink for you, lady?”

“Just water, guardian of Tartaros.” There was, of course, a pitcher of fresh water on a nearby table–two pitchers, in fact, one on a tray with cups for drinking, the other by a basin and a stack of towels, for washing. Persephone was rather fastidious about the dust of the underworld.

Hel drained off the cup Hades poured her and turned it in her hands. It was plain, unfigured, but perfectly smooth, satisfying to the hand. “I am a Titaness, you know.”

Hades sat down with his own cup of water. “I did not know that, no.”

“In our language, it is Jotun, Jotnar. The word is closer to your word ‘gigantes’ in meaning, but it amounts to the same thing. My father Loki and his people were gods in the north before the Aesir or the Vanir came along. The Allfather of the Aesir put me into Hel as your brother put some of the Titans into Tartaros. He thought he would be safer if I were locked up. He did not realize until too late that he had not locked me in; rather, he had locked himself out.” She smiled again, widely; Hades would not have admitted it, but even he found her half-flesh, half-bone smile–disturbing.

“Are you locked in, lord Hades? Or is your brother Zeus locked out?”

(Part two Part one)

A distinguished visitor, part two

“I am surprised to see you here, so far from your own lands, lady.”

Hel shrugged a bony shoulder. “I have good and trustworthy servants who will keep my domain for me while I am away. And I do not often roam.” She looked around the dim and rather dusty throne room, then back to him. “Nor do you, I think.”

“No. I am not everywhere welcome.”

“Yet you ventured forth to seize a bride.” She shifted, clasping her mismatched hands around equally mismatched knees. “I confess I was baffled when I heard that a lord of the underworld desired a wife.”

He had heard that the gods of the north and their people were subtle and keen. He had also heard that they were shamelessly blunt and forthright. This goddess who was neither alive nor dead, who seemed neither a maiden nor a wife nor mother, appeared to be blunt, yet perhaps she was more subtle than he could guess.

Wrong-footed, baffled by his guest, Hades told the truth. “My brother Zeus, lord of the gods, importuned me to wed her. And I was… lonely, and so I yielded.”

“What were lord Kronion’s reasons for wanting you to wed the daughter of Demeter?”

In truth, Hades had asked himself that over and over again. He did not for an instant believe that Zeus wanted him to be *happy*. He had believed, until he was disillusioned, that Demeter desired a match for her daughter and that he was, as mortals said, a good prospect. He was the lord of wealth, the shepherd of the shades, the guardian of the seal upon Tartaros. He made quite a respectable son-in-law, for a mother who wished to see her daughter wed.

Demeter, apparently, had not wished so.

He had not given himself the chance to question how his marriage benefited Zeus and Zeus’s rule. And while Zeus was always generous, he gave no gift without an advantage to himself.

Again Hades found himself telling his unexpected visitor the truth. “I do not know. But there must be some benefit to him in this arrangement.”

Hel nodded slowly. “I have no partner, lord Hades. I rule alone and uncontested. I could perhaps steal myself a husband and bend him to my will, unwomanly though that would seem.” A faint glimmer of mirth lightened her rasping whisper. But I am not lonely. And you, a wedded lord, are lonely.” Pressing her hands upon her knees like an old woman, Hel got to her feet, followed by Hades.

“I will take my leave of you now, lord of the cypress groves. I hope I may call upon you again.”

“Please do,” Hades said, and was astonished to hear genuine desire in his voice.

“Then I shall leave you with one question, lord Hades. When she is not by your side, where is your wife?”

FICTION: A distinguished visitor from the north

I am posting this with some trepidation. It is:

  • a completely unedited first draft
  • of the opening scene
  • of a story I just conceived of this evening
  • which may or may not be continued.

But it was written as part of my 31 Days of Fiction, so here it is.


Hades will point out, if given the opportunity, that he is not the god of death. He does not kill or take life; that job belongs to Thanatos. Admittedly, Thanatos works for him, but that was not always the case.

He is also, technically, not the god of the dead. He is, technically, the god of the underworld. He’s the lord of the place where the dead mostly end up, but it didn’t have to happen that way. Actually, he is the brother who drew the short straw and got the job nobody wanted, with the awkward two-pronged sceptre. He’s rather embarrassed, nowadays, by cartoons of “the devil” and his “pitchfork”.

Hades and his brother Poseidon have this in common with one another, and not with their big brother Zeus: A god should stay in the office. If somebody looks for you where you are supposed to be in charge, they should be able to find you there. Poseidon, therefore, tends to stay in the oceans, and Hades stays in the underworld. Poseidon comes to visit Hades not infrequently; they are both concerned with the drilling for oil that has obsessed the mortals for a little while now. But Hades rarely leaves his domain. He realized a long time ago that most of his fellow immortals did not consider him good company. He is not a party sort of god.

And so he is often lonely during those months when his wife Persephone visits her mother and her mother’s relatives. He used to become what they now call a workaholic during those months. Being the lord of the underworld and the host of the dead requires a good deal of work, especially when one has become accustomed to sharing the load with one’s spouse and then the spouse takes a three-month vacation. But when arrangements are made, they can be hard to change, especially when they involve mothers-in-law. And so Persephone leaves, and Hades tries to keep busy.

The first time Hermes announced her arrival, he was surprised. Hades does not surprise easily. Hermes himself looked a bit surprised, despite being dressed in his grey psychopomp outfit with the waterproof boots. “You have a distinguished visitor, lord of the shadows. A goddess from the far north.”

Hades shifted on his throne. “A visiting goddess? From the north?” He frowned at Hermes. Hermes spread out his hands. “Well then, guide of souls, show her in.”

As soon as she entered the throne room, Hades recognized her. He had heard tales, of course, as no doubt she had heard of him. She walked with her chin lifted, limping steadily along as if Hermes was not by her side, ready to offer his arm. Hades stood up to greet her, in respect for one who was not only a goddess, but a guardian of the dead like himself.

“Greetings, your ladyship, guardian of the northern dead.”

She cocked her head at him, turning her good eye toward as might a bird that had been blinded on one side. He had no doubt, however, that her empty eye socket saw just as well as the piercing dark eye still set in flesh.

“Hades. I thought you could use some company.”

Her voice was soft, a raspy whisper that seemed to form just inside one’s ear rather than crossing a space between bodies. It made him feel… ticklish.

“I take it you do not stand on ceremony, Lady Hel.”

The right side of her mouth joined the left in its perpetual smile. “Nor sit upon it, lord of wealth. May I take a seat?”

He nodded, and before he could summon a servant or lead her to a more private chamber, she limped forward and dropped gracelessly to the steps of his throne. Not knowing what else to do, Hades sat down beside her.

The goddess Hel resembled a young woman of serious mien, pale-skinned, with long black hair, thick and straight, dressed in simple clothes of black, grey, and white. Thus the right side of her body. The left side of her body was as an exposed skeleton, fleshless and scoured white, with patches of scruffy hair clinging to the bare skull. Her gown and apron draped over breast and bone equally; she clasped her hands casually in her lap.

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