Monday, February 28, 2011

The Zeuses you've seen

Another of the Things to think about.  From Jason and Medeia:
Tell me, child, are they then so many --the Zeuses you've seen? --John Gardner
A child with a pilgrim's staff presents himself at the gates of Zeus' Olympic palace.  Mighty Zeus, glorious, wise, and magnificent beyond all imagining, fresh off victory over the dragons, comes to greet the child, personally.  As Gardner puts it:  "It was a point of pride with Zeus that he wasn't as yet too proud to meet with the humblest of his visitors."

The child says that he has come to look upon Zeus.  The child has heard that Zeus is mightier than any god that has come before.  The child has come to see this grand new god.  Zeus is amused that the child should speak so boldly, and so he gently asks, "Tell me, child, are they then so many --the Zeuses you've seen?"

The child answers calmly.  In a fascinating recitation, the child tells of an infinitude of gods, of Zeuses, rising and falling in endless procession.  "Like delicate boats they float on the fathomless waters that form the Unnameable."  And when he has finished, Zeus, King of the Gods is humbled.

Is it plausible that the king of the gods could be deemed young?  If so, this Zeus, the one portrayed by Gardner, is young.  Full of his own glory, fascinated by his own image, amazed at the complexity of his own thought.  And, if it is not too laughable to suggest that mortals be compared to gods, I've known young men (and some young women) who display evidence of a similar outlook.  (Lord knows, at one time, even me!)

The conversation that Zeus has with the child is symbolic, perhaps, of a point in life at which every glorious youth in his (or her) pride will arrive:  the moment when one's own mortality becomes an incontrovertible fact.  Often, this revelation occurs when a parent, a leader, a hero, a "Zeus," if you will, is overthrown. We've all seen our Zeuses, yes?

Those Greeks!  They had a metaphor for everything!

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