Greek mythology has always been my favorite body of stories. As a kid, I obsessively read Edith Hamilton’s Mythology, and I could not get enough of those ancient babes and beasties amusing themselves at the expense of mortals. I love the endless bargaining, the jockeying for advantage, the punishments and retributions and the petty pranks. My favorite stories, though, are the ones about Zeus and Hera. Hera, the goddess of marriage and home, and Zeus, the god of the sky and thunder, are the rulers of Mount Olympus, the dysfunctional, bickering parents in the divine Greek family tree. (They are also siblings. I mention this so we can all have a collective “UGH YUCK” and move on.)
Hera: so I’m in charge of literally every meaningful human relationship
Hera: and you’re basically in charge of making loud noise
Hera: seems fair
I could not help but think about Zeus and Hera’s lively married life as I read the amazing Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff (Riverhead Books, 2015). I can’t be the first person to tell you to read Fates and Furies – it’s SO good- but I am probably the nerdiest about Greek mythology. Mathilde and Lotto meet in college and marry within weeks after setting eyes on each other for the first time. The scope of their married life is big, Greek tragedy big, with the story structured across and filtered through the mythologic ideas of the Fates, divine beings who ruled that which is given and gifted in life, and the Furies, righteous goddesses tasked with finding sinners and delivering justice. Their marriage is earthy and elemental, a series of seismic events that incrementally fuse these two individuals into one landscape. As perfectly as this grand structure serves the story, it’s the voyeuristic honesty scaled to the quiet, intimate moments between Mathilde and Lotto that are so shattering. It is utterly absorbing watching these characters claw out a unique space to inhabit together and find that shared identity that is particular within commitment. Groff understands that in learning to be together, you have to learn to someone’s emotional vocabulary. You have to sometimes learn to find regard where you only feel contempt. But in the most revered of the Mount Olympus traditions, you also have to learn to fight. Hard. Let’s bring in our experts.
Drama is relative. Your version of normal might be another person’s version of unbearable tension, an idea that Groff examines with passion and precision in Fates and Furies. That is, unless you are dealing with the inhabitants of Mount Olympus. That neighborhood is all drama, all the time, by anyone’s standard. But even in a crowd that routinely turned people into trees or cursed them with snakes for hair, Zeus and Hera set the bar for fighting. Zeus and Hera are that boundaries-free couple nobody wants to be in public with because of all the screaming and name-calling. I guess they might be forgiven a bit for their histrionics when you consider that they’ve been married for thousands of years. If your idea of a great marriage is tons of infidelity, death, and transforming into animals, then this is the couple for you.
You Can’t Hide Your Lying Eyes Apparently, the easiest way to score with ancient Greek chicks was to turn yourself into an animal. This was Zeus’ go-to move anyway. Every time Hera turned her back, he was transforming into a swan or a bull or an eagle so he could cheat on his wife with the latest object of his affection. It’s more than a little creepy but it’s not like he could transform himself into someone more handsome or successful. He was ZEUS. That is the top of any social ladder. Still, you’d think word would get around that if a bull showed up in your room and tried to make out with you, it was probably Zeus. Then there was the reverse animal trick, when Zeus turned his crush Io into a heifer to protect her from Hera. Because, when Zeus panics, he panics dumb.
Zeus: hey cutie
Io: no thanks lightning boy
Zeus: crap! my wife! i’ll turn you into a heifer to hide you
Io: because cows are invisible?!? idiot
Taylor Swift: i am so writing a song about this
Always Go To Bed Mad Hera has a 7th degree black belt in grudge holding. If Zeus liked you, and she found out about it, your life as you knew it was over. Hera was all about punishing Zeus’ crushes, but never punishing Zeus. I question this weird passive-aggressive strategy, because her shenanigans never kept Zeus from picking out his next wildlife disguise, but I have to applaud her creativity. In Io’s case-because it wasn’t sucky enough to be capriciously transformed into a cow-Hera decides to give Io her own personal biting horsefly.
Hera: sorry you got turned into a heifer
Hera: nbd but now i am going to have this fly bite you a lot
Io: well this day can’t get any worse
Taylor Swift: squad goals!
Pick Your Battles Hera knew how to go big or go home, so when she got tired of the one-offs of sending bothersome insects after enchanted livestock, she started the Trojan War over losing a golden apple she wanted to Aphrodite. Because the best way to express your disappointment at not getting that golden apple you had your heart set on is to start a war. Also, make sure it lasts about ten years, so that your husband knows you are completely serious when you tell him you wanted that damn golden apple for your damn self, and he better think twice next time when he takes the golden apple you wanted and lets that hussy Aphrodite waltz off with it. THAT WAS YOUR SHINY APPLE.
Zeus: couldn’t you just send another fly
Hera: i can’t hear you over the sound of not having my apple
Taylor Swift: the song I wrote is already #1!
Zeus: someone turn her into a heifer
Hera: i’m on it
I need a nap because I wore myself out not spoiling all the good stuff in Fates and Furies. This was my first Lauren Groff book, and I’ve added all her earlier works to my TBR list.