Life was hard in ancient times. You had to farm for stuff, and then turn that stuff you farmed into food and cook it without a microwave. And sometimes, you had to put a garland around the neck of the best thing you farmed that year, and slaughter it on an altar, or in the middle of your tiny town square or whatever, because gods don’t farm and eff you very much they feel like some bull today.
The point is times were hard. People were cranky. Gods were smitey. Rage was on a whole other level. Or it must have been, because that’s the only reason I can figure for these huge, flaming reactions of batshit crazy.
Prometheus Chained to a Rock, Liver Eaten by Eagle. Daily.
As the story goes, Prometheus was a Titan who sided with Zeus and the other Olympians during the war with the gods, only to figure out later that Zeus was sort of a dick and humanity was the way to go. That last half is largely conjecture, but Prometheus was always slighting Zeus on our behalf, from making sure we got to keep the best parts of the animal sacrifice, to making sure we could then cook that animal sacrifice and not get horrible, horrible diarrhea. He brought us fire, people. He was basically humanity’s original bro.
Unfortunately, Zeus punished him by having him chained to a rock on Mount Kazbek, and got an eagle to eat his liver. It grows back at night, what with him being an immortal Titan and all, so the eagle has to come back, and do it again. And again. And again, until that eagle dies of Vitamin A toxicity. Or sometimes, the eagle becomes so sick of liver that it turns vegan, like that one who does the pistachio commercials now with Stephen Colbert. He won’t confirm that Prometheus was his last gig, but there’s something in that eagle’s eyes that says he’s seen things.
All this, because Zeus was mad we got to cook stuff and not freeze in winter and find our way through dark places.
Achilles Defeats Hector in Combat, Ties Body to Chariot, Drags it around Troy
Ah, Achilles. Truly, an overreactor extraordinaire. First he almost single-handedly hoses up the Greek victory by refusing to fight after a spat with Agamemnon over the spoils, and when he gets even madder at Hector, he returns to battle, and proceeds to immediately lose his stuff. And by stuff I mean shit.
Sure, Hector killed Achilles’ best man friend, Patroclus. But he did it in the middle of a war. These things happen. Achilles though, wasn’t satisfied by simple revenge. He killed Hector in a duel and then went full on crazy, stabbing Hector’s dead body through the legs and tying it behind his horses, then whipping those horses into a frenzy to drag dead Hector willy nilly back and forth in front of his horrified family. Probably while shrieking loud enough to make David O. Russell say, “Hey man, you need to calm down.”
Artemis is Viewed Nude, Turns Viewer into Stag, Has Him Eaten by Own Dogs
For those unfamiliar with this grand tale of overreaction, Actaeon was a hunter. Artemis was a virgin goddess, and I guess she liked to strip down and bathe once in a while, you know, right along the hunting path. One day, on an innocent hunt, Actaeon stumbles upon her, and is rendered wide-eyed by her naked magnificence. So she turns him into a stag. His hounds, who see nothing but a delicious, not-too-bright stag who keeps trying to talk them down for some reason, tear him apart.
So much overreaction here I don’t know where to start. I mean, eaten by dogs? That’s beyond a rough way to go. You’d rather die a slow, agonizing death by dehydration and heat exposure inside a locked automobile. Just ask that little kid from Who’s the Boss?. Plus, there were an overkill number of dogs. Like, thirty-six or something. You may wonder what he was doing with that many dogs in the first place, but I guess Actaeon was like the Will Graham of ancient Greece.
Artemis had a bow. She could have just shot him. Or, you know, let it slide. Except that wasn’t an option, back then, what with people slaying things all the time, and Gods driving people mad, and folks having to occasionally turn into a tree to avoid being raped and then sometimes still being raped anyway.
On dark nights, over a cup of cocoa, I wonder what horrid fate would have befallen Actaeon had he reacted in some other way, like shouting, “oh dear god, what is that thing?” and shoving her into a bush. And then I sit back and sip, happy that I live now, in a time of microwaves and diplomacy and way fewer chariots.
Kendare Blake holds an MA in Creative Writing from Middlesex University in northern London. Blake is the author of Anna Dressed in Blood, Girl of Nightmares, and Antigoddess. She lives and writes in Lynnwood, Washington.