Sunday, 14 October 2007

"Gods behaving badly"

When at the end of the summer the fires raged through the Peleponessos, the help only went smoothly when the fires reached the holy sites of Olympos, the mountains where the Greek gods used to live. Journalists from all over the world flocked to write about it and the site will be the first one to be cleaned up.

But what will the gods do at Olympos now? The population of Greece is 99% Greek Orthodox and they haven't believed in the Olympian Gods for ages. The temples are only useful to earn money from tourism and the country is full of chapels and churches that are built in honour of one of the many saints who are also woreshipped.

The English writer Marie Phillips made a successful entry to the literary world with her first novel 'Gods behaving badly'*. According to Phillips the twelve Olympian Gods have since 1665 lived in the north of London, in Hampstead, in a big house that's falling apart.

Artemis, goddess of the moon and the hunt, is a professional dog walker. Apollo, god of light, music and oracles, earns some money as a medium in a show on a lousy television station. Aphrodite, goddess of beauty and love, has a sexline. Her son Eros secretly discovered God and is hiding his wings under his clothes. Ares is the god of war and he looks upon it that in the world conflicts keep on happening so that wars still exist. Hermes, god of commerce and messenger between the different gods, tries to mediate in thier rows. He's also the one that brings the spirits of the dead to the door to the underworld of Hades, which is at an underground station in London. Dionysos, god of joy and wine, runs the nightclub 'Bacchanten' and produces his own strong wine. Athena, goddess of wisdom, is the diplomat of the family but lapses regularly into slyness. Zeus, god of the earth and heaven, is growing old and senile and has become dangerous because he's no longer trustworthy with his lightning. His wife Hera, goddess of the family, keeps him shut up in the attic and tries to look after the rest of the family.

But it's not an easy family. The gods argue over household chores and they bicker a lot. Nobody is really happy with life in London. They've known better times. Apollo is even a very naughty man. The story starts when Apollo asks a woman in the street if she will give him a blow job. She refuses and Apollo makes her into a rare Australian Eucalyptus tree. Artemis, while walking her dogs, discovers the poor woman transformed into a tree and gets so mad that she makes Apollo promise on Styx (the goddess of the underworld river) that he will not kill any humans in the next 10 years.

Aphrodite also has to settle something with Apollo. She makes her son Eros help her with the revenge, threatening Eros to punish him in front of his beloved pastor. Apollo has to fall in love.

The arrow of Eros causes Apollo to fall in love with Alice, a cleaning woman. Alice will not survive this love, because Apollo cannot behave himself, so that a big disaster threatens the whole world. Artemis decides that something has to be done and sends Alice's friend, Neil, to Hades and Persephone in the underworld to claim back Alice. Just as Orpheus once did for his Eurydice. Orpheus nearly made it, but at the last moment he looked back and that's why Eurydice had to stay forever in the underworld.

'Gods behaving badly' is a really entertaining book. An original story and written very light-heartedly. For people who have trouble remembering all the stories about the gods, it'll be a handy exercise in remembering who's who in the world of Greek gods. Because nobody believes in those Olympian gods anymore, their powers are decreasing, but Phillips gave them very funny characters.

It's a nice idea that the gods of Olympos not only left their mountain, but also Greece. And that Zeus became a little senile, is so obvious when you look at the changing climate.

While the streets of Athens have been flooded several times, while everywhere lightning was striking (not injuring anyone), here on Lesvos only the electricity poles gave off sparks above a very dry landscape. For days they were forecasting rain and clouds were gathering around Lepetimnos. For days I turned off the electricity when going out, in fear that the first lightning would blow up my computer. For days the clouds disappeared and Apollo made sure that the sun gave us beautiful autumnal days. It was sultry and warm, the air heavy with water, but not a single drop ever reached the ground.

On Saturday clouds were rumbling the whole day around the mountains. In the evening heavy thunderstorms besieged Turkey. In the north of the island we had a wonderful sight of this sound and light show. Finally after midnight the floodgates of heaven opened above the north of Lesvos and the heavenly rains touched the dry ground.

But I'm afraid the rains were too late for the olives. They're small and wrinkly, most of them have only a stone and no flesh. With the first signs of winter a lot of them fell off the trees. All of this might be thanks to Athena who's too busy with her household in Hampstead. She should have been nicer to her father Zeus, so that we could've had more rains. And Demeter, goddess of agriculture, probably spent all her nights at 'Bacchanten'. Lesvos is going to have a very bad olive harvest this year.

We'd better spring Zeus from his attic room in London. We could house him in Molyvos castle. They're restoring the old place so they can make sure that the castle is adapted to Zeus geriatric needs. And then Zeus can prevent temperature drops like we just had: from 27°C to 11°C. It's suddenly winter here! Or do we have to thank Apollo for this? Maybe he had a rough night with a woman and forgot to put the sunset on time. Anyhow, for Apollo there are enough women here on the island. It's the island of the Greek poetess Sappho, which means that women of all shapes and sizes come to the island.

For Dionysos I know of a very nice nightclub by the sea that's for sale in Skala Sykaminia. And it would be a challenge for him to make a new brand of ouzo. Artemis can take care of the boars that are released around the Lesvian Olympos. And she can set up excursions for bird watchers. Aphrodite can start a sexline here in English, for the tourists. And she could start a school for kamaki's (Greek Don Juans), because they're threatened with extension. And Hermes could make sure there'll be more ferries and that they run on time.

So there's plenty for the gods to do here on Lesvos and I'm sure they'll be so happy here that Athena will get the time to look after the millions of olive trees on the island, along with Demeter.

If we could make the gods come to Lesvos, we could also have plenty of rain. Look at London, where it often rains cats and dogs. And well, whenever Apollo changes a woman into a rare Australian Eucalyptus tree, that wouldn't be so disastrous. It'll just bring more tourists to the island...

*Marie Phillips - Gods behaving badly, ed. Jonathan Cape, London.

Copyright © Smitaki 2007

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