Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Great Debates of Greek Myth: Abduction Has Larger Meaning

Since I became a Hellenist in 2009, I cannot think of a year that passed in which I did not encounter someone who told me that some of the Greek myths promoted rape and kidnapping. It's a fun favorite card for those who dislike Greek Polytheism or who wish to take a jab at Gods they want to paint in a negative light. In fact, just this past week or so, an individual on my Facebook friends list, in good intent, pointed out the classic examples when we were discussing rape culture in America. The common response from Hellenists to things like Haides and Persephone or Zeus and Europa, has been to say that the stories are allegories and do not form a concrete, infallible doctrine of the religion, or that there are alternate versions of the tales. Which, in truth, there are. Persephone is not always depicted as an unwilling participant. Greek myths will always be up for anyone's interpretation due to the fact that we can't go ask the ancient Greeks what they meant, because they're all dead.

However, I love to look deep into things and unravel mysteries behind them. I love to find truth, or things that people may not have initially thought of in the past that give a story or an event more meaning. Although this time, it was by accident that I skimmed across my latest mythological revelation about the Greeks. There is a marvelous poetic book of Greek myth written by a man named Roberto Calasso called The Marriage of Cadmus and Harmony. The book opens with the story of Europa. On the surface, many of us know it. Europa was a beautiful maiden who was kidnapped by Zeus in disguise as a beautiful bull, who took her to discover the continent that she gave her name to, Europe. 

In the first few pages, the author routinely begins each paragraph with, "But how did it all begin?" when he starts telling versions and histories of the story. This question is very important to understanding the meaning of the events. On page 4, it reads, "But how did it all begin? Shortly before dawn, asleep in her room, Europa had had a strange dream: she was caught between two women; one was Asia, the other was the land facing her, and she had no name. The two women were fighting over her, violently."

In Greek myth we also find that Zeus is a God who sends dreams, often meant as omens and signs to spell out someone's destiny or a favorable course of action in life.

Between pages 5 and 6, it continues and reads, "Europa was out walking with her friends, a shining gold basket in her hand. Hephaestus had made it two generations before. It was the family talisman. As she walked toward the flowery meadow near the sea, what Europa was carrying was her destiny."

All of these quotes in the book point to one thing, the inescapable reality of fate or destiny which the Gods have ordained for someone. In this regard, the person in question has been taken against their will. It does not mean that they were physically kidnapped or forced, but that their lives took on larger meaning beyond their control. In short, they were chosen to be special individuals.

In the Goodness of the Gods,