Written by Reshmi S.
Greek mythology fascinates me!
I have two favourite quotes that best explain why myths are just better than any other stories.
The first one,
“I liked myths. They weren’t adult stories and they weren’t children’s stories. They were better than that. They just were.”
― Neil Gaiman, The Ocean at the End of the Lane.
And the other,
“Mythology is not a lie, mythology is poetry, it is metaphorical. It has been well said that mythology is the penultimate truth–penultimate because the ultimate cannot be put into words. It is beyond words. Beyond images, beyond that bounding rim of the Buddhist Wheel of Becoming. Mythology pitches the mind beyond that rim, to what can be known but not told.”
― Joseph Campbell, The Power of Myth.
There are Gods with their better halves, brothers, sisters, offspring who are mortal and immortal, mirroring the human relationships on the Earth. The society of Gods, their lifestyle, their emotions, their behaviour are equivalent to the lives of a mortal human. Their stories are unique. They are as imperfect as you and me.
If Gods were like humans, what sets them apart? IMMORTALITY. Humans perish while Gods don’t. One other distinctive feature of Gods is their power of PUNISHMENT. Oh! The curses! Death would mean nothing when compared to these eternal sufferings.
I will give you all a glimpse of the cruellest curses from my reading of Greek Mythology.
Eagle eats out the liver of Prometheus EVERY NIGHT!
Prometheus – the Titan in Greek mythology – is famous for being a deceiver. He stole fire from Zeus – the King of Gods and the God of sky and thunder – and provided it to the mortal human beings defying the Gods.
He was cursed by Zeus to be chained to a rock near the edge of a mountain where an eagle would come every night to eat out his liver. And during the day, his liver would regenerate to be devoured by the eagle at night.
Everybody knows Medusa as the woman with venomous snakes on her head instead of hair. Medusa was one of the three Gorgon sisters; whose beauty was breath-taking.
Poseidon – the Greek God of seas, storms, earthquakes and horses – entranced by Medusa’s beauty raped her at the temple of the Greek Goddess Athena. Infuriated Athena, who felt the purity of her temple was tainted by such an act, curses Medusa’s hair to turn into snakes and her face to look horrible so much so that anybody who took a look at her face would turn into a stone.
This curse irked me a lot. Why? Any sane person would curse Poseidon for committing the heinous act. But, Medusa was punished for being a temptress. So much like the world we live in.
Rolling the Boulder uphill FOREVER!
Sisyphus is known as a trickster and for cheating death twice before he was cursed by Zeus. He married his brother Salmoneous’s daughter, Tyro to use her and the children she bore to him to remove Salmoneus from the throne.
He revealed the secret of Zeus who had taken away Ageina; to her father Asopus – the river God – causing Zeus great trouble.
He cheated death by chaining Hades – God of Death – in the underworld. He cheated Persephone – Queen of the underworld – by stating that his burial was not properly conducted by his wife and that he wanted to go back and advise his wife for a proper burial. However, he refused to return to the underworld.
After he was forcefully brought to the underworld, Zeus cursed Sisyphus to roll a boulder uphill only for the boulder to roll down when Sisyphus almost reached the end. This punishment was extremely pointless and frustrating. Tasks that can never be completed are described as “Sisyphean” influenced by the story of Sisyphus.
The Ixion Wheel
Ixion was the king of the Lapiths in Thessaly. He killed his father-in-law and was denied the help of the neighbouring kingdoms to perform rituals that would purify him of his guilt. He was shunned for kin-slaying. Zeus pitied and invited him to Olympus to get rid of his guilt.
But, Ixion went against the code of conduct and became lustful of Zeus’s wife Hera. Zeus, finding out Ixion’s intentions, created a clone of Hera to test his loyalty. Ixion impregnated the clone of Hera, which enraged Zeus. He cursed Ixion to be bounded to a burning wheel for eternity.
So Close yet So FAR…
Tantalus was cursed to remain at Tartarus, underground place for sinners, for killing his own son and serving him in a banquet for the Gods to test their omniscience. He also stole ambrosia and nectar, the food of Gods that gave them immortality, to render it to his people and revealed the secrets of God.
In Tartarus, Tantalus was made to stand on a pool of water and above him stood a tree with its branches low enough for him to grab and eat the fruits it bore. But, every time he reached for the fruits the branches would move out of his reach. The water in the pool retreated before he could take a sip. Cruel punishment of temptation without satisfaction. Interestingly the English word “tantalise” which means to “torment or tease (someone) with the sight or promise of something that is unobtainable” finds its root from Tantalus.
Liar. Liar. Pants on Fire.
King Priam and Queen Hecuba of Troy gave birth to a girl named Cassandra.
Unable to control her desire to be able to predict the future, she visited God Apollo – god of healing, medicine, archery, music, poetry and most importantly the god of prophecy. Cassandra promised to give herself to Apollo if he gifted her the power of seeing the future.
However, right after receiving the gift, she denied to offer herself to Apollo which made him angry. Apollo cursed her that nobody would believe her prophecies even though they were true.
This made Cassandra frustrated as her own family refused to believe her words. She was seen as a liar and a madwoman.
Itsy… Bitsy… Spider!
Arachne is said to be the daughter of a famous dyer and sometimes as the daughter of a shepherd. Well, mythologies have a numerous retelling but I’ll get to the curse.
Proud of her exceptional weaving skills, Arachne challenged Athena – the Goddess of wisdom, handicraft and warfare – to a weaving contest. She weaved a cloth in which Gods were represented with ill morals and especially Zeus who was represented as a womaniser. Also, the cloth she weaved was more beautiful than Athena’s. An infuriated Athena destroyed Arachne’s work and made her feel ashamed and guilty. Unable to bear the shame and guilt, Arachne hanged herself.
Feeling pity for Arachne, Athena granted her another life but was cursed to be a spider so that she can weave all her life.
I find this a little funny for a curse yet cruel. Somehow the idea of reincarnating Arachne as a spider just because she can weave all her life feels extremely comical and funny.
Some might call these curses as just punishments for the evildoers. However, is it really just? Sometimes I felt these curses were the Gods’ inability to accept defeat from their own creations, the mere mortals.
I have listed only a very few curses that struck my mind. There are infinite curses, each creative and crueller than the other, not only in Greek mythology but from mythologies all over the world.
Which one of the above-listed curse do you think is the cruellest? Comment below.
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Reshmi is a Content Writer at The Strong Traveller. She is an avid reader and a student of literature. Reshmi being a writer by day and a reader by night, she loves exploring new horizons of thoughts and loves to go by the quote “Change the way you look at things and the things you look at change!“
Other post by the author: 7 Books That Made Me a Traveller