Author’s Note: I should warn you that if you get triggered reading about violence towards women, then you should stop reading now.
Gods don’t have a monopoly on wisdom. Take Tolstoy. When he wrote “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way,” he really nailed my family of Olympians on the head. That was one sage dude.
I’ve been burying myself in work so I don’t have to think about my family too much because it makes me unhappy. The last thing I want to do is see them. There’s always so much drama. But, my birthday’s coming up soon. It’s a lesser Panathenaea, but it’s still a major celebration, and my first birthday in two thousand years! Nike wants to organize the races, Hestia’s helping me plan the afterparty at Nox. Big E might even spin. Aunt Dem’s baking me a special blueberry birthday pie…you get the picture.
I can’t avoid them forever. So I’ve decided that today I’ll move into the monstrosity my dad Zeus calls the Olympic Administration Building and take up residence. When he heard I was working as a mall cop, he offered me the CEO role, but I’m happier learning about you mortals by observing you. I don’t know that you’d benefit from us bossing and bullying you around the way we used to do. And that seems to be the prevailing CEO ethos. At least that’s how Daddy likes to rule.
From what I’ve observed, some of your behaviors appear timeless. You still have the potential to be as greedy, mean, violent, foolish and angry as always, and as warm, friendly, funny, eccentric and sometimes downright lovely as you sometimes aspire to be. However, your world has gotten so much smaller. You’re always looking down, communicating with the tiny towns you hold in your hands. I rarely see you raise your eyes to the horizon to take in what majesty you can still see around the corners of the buildings.
I’ve noticed the way you appear to see the gods has shrunk as well. In your minds, all gods have become so small, you can fit our faces on the side of a candle, wear our symbols around your neck and fit your prayers into tiny boxes. I Segway past shop windows and see how my family and other families of gods are worshiped now. It astounds me how completely you’ve forgotten us. How utterly small your lives are now.
Is your sadness smaller, too? It’s hard to imagine someone putting their eyes out like Oedipus did when he discovered the truth about himself. I guess now that misery can be contained on paper, you no longer need to wail until your heart breaks.
But perhaps my family of gods deserves to be forgotten. What kind of example have we led? What virtues do we display?
A couple of weeks ago, my primordial great-great-great aunt Nyx whispered into my ear a warning. “Pay attention,” she said.
So as I Segway on my rounds watching over the mall, I listen to the news issuing from the cell phones, radios and TVs. From the news reports, I can tell that much of what my family has taught you has stayed with you. So many of our bad habits still color your actions, still cause you misery. History repeats itself indeed.
I’m sorry, you might not understand me. Let me try this way.
Think back to when the gods were still awesome. And by that I don’t mean the child’s interpretation of the word, I mean awesome in a “we are something that should be admired, but also feared” kind of way.
What do you remember about me, Athena? That I sprang, full-grown and armored, from the head of my father Zeus to rule by his side?
For so long, I bragged about having no mother. I wore it like a badge of pride (even though I knew it wasn’t true). Despite loving getting my knit on, I eschewed the company of women. I showered favors on heroic men and quick-witted, adulterous adventurers like Odysseus.
There is one thing that I’m still proud of. One day, Prometheus made clay figurines to amuse me. I gave those dolls the breath of life and brought you mortals into existence. It was my finest accomplishment.
In the short time I’ve been back, I’ve learned so much from you. I know you probably think it odd that a god or goddess should find anything of interest to learn from you mortals. But I’ve found that wisdom can come from anywhere. I don’t discriminate.
From you, I’ve learned a new word. That word has brought me understanding. It’s taught me to see my family in a way that I cannot unsee. But that word is the truth, and I must bear it.
That word is rape.
Maybe that word doesn’t shock you. But it has shaken my belief and trust in my family down to its very core.
Remember: My father’s conquests were legendary. They showed his power. He could transform into a bull, an eagle, a shower of gold, a swan, anything he needed to abduct and dominate the object of his affection.
Growing up, these stories sounded romantic. People sang about them everywhere. Men sought to emulate Zeus. Many gods acted just like him.
Which means that I grew up surrounded by people who celebrated rape.
My Daddy is a serial rapist. All the children I grew up with…children of rape. I am a child of violence: rape and murder. Perhaps that’s why I am the goddess of war as much as wisdom. Daddy’s violence and rage is in my blood. But unlike Ares, who has no check against his nature, I have enough of my mother in me to be calculating, even as I rage.
Which brings me to my worst offense.
It began with my greatest triumph. The people of Athens chose me over my uncle Poseidon to be their patron god. Enraged, he sought revenge. He took it by raping a virgin priestess, my favorite, in my temple.
Eventually, I arrived on the scene, drunk with victory. What do you think I did when I found my uncle raping my best friend at my altar?
I’m going to pause here while you picture something truly righteous.
Now I’m going to break your heart.
I had the opportunity to be a hero. To rescue the downtrodden. To avenge my friend. Instead, I blamed her. I transformed Medusa’s golden hair into snakes so no man would ever look at her again. I should have been an ally. To pay down that blood debt, I will strive to be an ally from now on.
By the way, did you know I was almost raped? Yeah…by my brother. Do I still go to him for armor? Yes. Why? He’s…family.
And what’s even crazier is I didn’t even realize it was a sexual assault until I started hearing all these #MeToo stories. Now I realize it’s not normal for your brother to take off his clothes and chase you around the forge and then cum on your leg. I thought that’s just what guys (and gods) do.
Not anymore. Thanks for enlightening me.
So…moving day. Birthday parties. New home. Same old family…probably still being rape-y. I’ll let you know how it goes.
PS: If you still do this kind of thing, could you maybe say a prayer for me?
PPS: June 22 is my birthday, so maybe eat some olives and knit a scarf in my honor?
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