ED2012 COLUMN: Temple Theatre’s ‘Unmythable’ is “a whistle-stop tour through the greatest Greek myths ever told” says our reviewer. Well, we like the sound of that. And to get you in the mood, the show’s Paul O’Mahony is on hand to offer a little mythy enlightenment.
As we’ve been hearing a lot recently, the Greeks love having a good time and to hell with the cost. Perhaps we should blame the gods – after all, if you had Zeus as a role model what would you do? He’s the ultimate instant gratification, buy-now-pay-later kind of guy. This is the man (well, god, but definitely male, definitely a being with a penis) who was so enraged that Danae’s father locked her up in a tower to protect her from his advances that he visited her as a shower of gold – in the process inadvertently inventing a whole sub-genre of pornography. Patience was never one of his virtues (come to think of it, I’m not sure he had any virtues) and to get his wicked way with any beautiful Greek girl he fancied he disguised himself at various times as a bull, a swan, an ant, a goat, an eagle and a pigeon. Zeus was a one-man petting zoo, just significantly more dangerous.
He was the man/god at the top, and those beneath him tended to follow his lead. Women seem to exist in Greek mythology only so that they can be wronged, and for every hero sailing off merrily with a fluffy Golden Fleece, there tends to be a slighted female abandoned somewhere lonely. Heracles was possibly the worst culprit – a serial offender who managed to work his way through three wives. Whenever he got bored of one, he would ‘go mad’ and ‘accidentally’ kill them. Or at least that was his story. He was also the ultimate strange-animal-killing-machine who is responsible for exterminating more species than global warming, disease and hunting put together. Thanks to him, you’re never going to see a multi-headed Hydra in the wild (or in a zoo for that matter).
Women had a tough time, and it was no easy ride for the female immortals either. Before we ever had Miss World there was Myth World, when Paris had to choose which goddess was the most beautiful. His decision not to select Hera was almost as controversial as Stuart Pearce’s omission of David Beckham although hopefully the consequences won’t be quite so severe (ten years of war, a city destroyed, lots of people dying) this time round. The prize for the winner of this beauty contest (Aphrodite, since you ask) was a golden apple (the Greeks took fruit very seriously) but the losers (Hera and Athene) didn’t take it lying down. The upshot was the Trojan War, when Helen’s face launched a thousand ships. Her neck and arms launched a further 300 while her legs launched a new range of fashionable sportswear.
The Greeks and the Trojans fought for ten years with Hector leading the Trojans, while Achilles was the greatest Greek fighter. After Achilles killed Hector it seemed that nothing could stop him from leading the Greeks to victory: he seemed indestructible, invincible, immortal even. But Achilles had an Achilles’ heel. Achilles’ Achilles’ heel was his heel. Paris discovered this by shooting Achilles in the heel and killing him. So with their best warrior dead, how could the Greeks possibly break into Troy? Well how else but by building a giant wooden horse, filling it with your soldiers and then leaving it whilst pretending to sail away but actually hiding your fleet behind the nearest island, in the hope that the people you’ve been besieging for ten years will think it’s a leaving present and then bring it into their city thus allowing your men to exit under the cover of darkness to let in your army which has returned from behind the nearest island and then massacring the inhabitants in their sleep? Simple. (And that’s ‘simple’ without an ‘s’ at the end because ‘simple’ should never have an ‘s’ at the end.)
Greek mythology is about power, controlling women and war. By the way, that sentence also works if you replace ‘Greek mythology’ with ‘The US Republican Party’. All the strongest human emotions are found there, and whether you are making a Herculean effort or feeling a bit narcissistic you’ll probably be able to find a classical allusion that will apply to you. Whatever you’re going through, the Greeks got there first so it’s well worth revisiting their stories now to get a few tips on how not to deal with your problem.
Unmythable, Zoo, 3-27 August, 1.45pm.
Photo: Graeme Braidwood