“It was no doubt their bad experiences with these two, Tantalos and Semele, that made the gods wary of getting too close to the mortals of later generations.” 

“Persuaded by Hera, [Zeus’s] perennially offended wife, that if she was sleeping with a god she ought to have the satisfaction of seeing him in all his glory, Semele nagged at Zeus night after night to throw off his disguise and appear as he really was. Finally, exasperated and perhaps by now tired of her, he did and she was vaporised. It was no doubt their bad experiences with these two, Tantalos and Semele, that made the gods wary of getting too close to the mortals of later generations.”

-John Spurling, Arcadian Nights 

“He knew, of course, that the gods never touch human food or wine.”

“Pelops was the son of Tantalos, said to be a child of Father Zeus and a favorite of the gods; such a favourite that they even invited him to their divine banquets of ambrosia and nectar and when eh invited them back, accepted. This was altogether too much for his sanity. He was beside himself with self-importance, promising his human friends that next time he was invited to Mount Olympos he  would put aside a little of the gods’ food and drink and bring it back for them to taste, and asking them meanwhile to find hi the choicest foods and wines in Greece to set before the gods. He knew, of course, that the gods never touch human food or wine. They like us to offer them a prime ram or bull and to pour on the ground a libation of he costliest wine, but not for them to consume, only to demonstrate our love and esteem, our sense of gratitude for what earth gives us, our willingness to sacrifice the best things we have in their honour.

So when the twelve Olympian gods came to diinner at [Tantalos’s] place in Arcadia — that made thirteen at the table, including the host — Tantalos did not expect them to eat any of the twenty or thirty courses he provided, nor to drink any of the choice wines from Thasos and Chios, Rhodes and Cos, and nearby Nemea. What he did expect them to do, as each delectable dish was brought in and placed on the table with its aroma wafting around the hall, as each superlative wine was opened and poured into the mixing-bowl and then both dishes and wine removed untouched, was to appreciate his very special, very expensive sacrifice. And they did. They smiled and laughed and sniffed the wonderful scents of the wines and powerful aromas drifting round the hall from every sort of meat and game and fish and vegetable and herb. But [Tantalos’s] disastrous mistake was the piece de resistance. It was a huge casserole and Tantalos in his blind pride dared to set the gods a test. Could any of them, he asked, lifting the lid himself with a  flourish so that the savour rose up in a rush with the steam, tell him what was in the casserole? A dreadful silence followed, but Tantalos thought it was only because they were flummoxed. He took a juicy piece of meat out of the pot and held it up for them to see. He even bit into it and chewed it with relish.”

Arcadian Nights by John Spurling 

 

See also: The gods don’t need your worship [essay]

Will you be the cog in my machine? V-day is a go!

Happy early Vulcan Day!

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Volume 1

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covers for the mythpunk books the automation and the pre-programming
The gods send their love.

Ursula K. Le Guin on the “Myth and Archetype in Science Fiction” :

“Where intellect fails, and must always fail, unless we become disembodied bubbles, then one of the other modes must take over. The myth, mythological insight, is one of these. Supremely effective in its area of function, it needs no replacement. Only the schizoid arrogance of modern scientism pretends that it ought to be replaced, and that pretension is pretty easily deflated. For example, does our scientific understanding of the nature and behavior of the Sun explain (let alone explain away) Apollo’s remarkable sex life, or his role as the god of music and of the divine harmony? No, it has nothing whatever to do with all that; it has nothing to do with sex, or music, or harmony, or divinity; nor, as science, did it ever pretend to — only scientism made the claim. Apollo is not the Sun, and never was. The Sun, in fact, ‘is merely’ one of the names of Apollo.

Reductionism cuts both ways, after all.

So long, then, as we don’t claim either that the science in science fiction replaces the “old false” mythologies, or that the fiction in science fiction is a mere attempt to explain what science hasn’t yet got around to explaining, we can use the slogan. Science fiction is the mythology of the modern world — or one of its mythologies — even though it is a highly intellectual form of art, and mythology is a nonintellectual mode of apprehension. For science fiction does use the mythmaking faculty to apprehend the world we live in, a world profoundly shaped and changed by science and technology; and its originality is that it uses mythmaknig faculty on new material.

But there’s another catch to look out for. The presence of mythic material in a story does not mean that the mythmaking faculty is being used.

Here is a science fiction story: its plot is modeled directly upon that of an ancient myth, or there are characters in it modeled upon certain gods or heroes of legend. Is it, therefore, a myth? Not necessarily; in fact, probably not. No mythmaking is involved: just theft.

Theft is an integral function of a healthy literature. It’s much easier to steal a good plot from some old book than to invent one. Anyhow, after you’ve sweated to invent an original plot, it very  often turns out to be a perfect parallel to one of the old stories (more on this curious fact later). And since there are beautiful and powerful stories all through world legendry, and since stories need retelling from generation to generation, why not steal them? I’m certainly not the one to condemn the practice; parts of my first novel were lifted wholesale from Norse mythos (Brisingamen, Freya’s necklace, and episodes in the life of Odin). My version isn’t a patch on the original, of course, but I think I did the gods of Asgard no harm, and they did my book some good. This sort of pilfering goes on all the time, and produces many pleasant works of art, thought it does not lead to any truly new creations or cognitions.

There is a more self-conscious form of thievery which is both more destructive and more self-destructive. In many college English courses the words ‘myth’ and ‘symbol’ are given a tremendous charge of significance. You just ain’t no good until you can see a symbol hiding, like a scared gerbil, under every page. And in many creative writing courses the little beasts multiply, the place swarms with them.

Scholars can have great fun, and can strengthen the effect of such figures, by showing their relationship to other manifestations of the archetype in myth, legend, dogma, and art. These linkages can be highly illuminating. Frankenstein’s monster is related to the Goldem; to Jesus; to Prometheus. Tarzan is a direct descendant of the Wolfchild/Noble Savage on one side, and every child’s fantasy of the Orphan-of-High-Estate on the other. The robot may be seen as the modern ego’s fear of the body, after the crippling division of ‘mind’ and ‘body,’ ‘ghost’ and ‘machine,’ enforced by post-Renasissance mechanistic thought…

On this level, science fiction deserves the title of a modern mythology.

Most science fiction doesn’t, of course, and never will. There are never very many artists around. No doubt we’ll continue most of the time to get rewarmed leftovers from Babylon and Northrop Frye served up by earnest snobs, and hordes of brawny Gerbilmen ground out by hacks. But there will be many mythmakers, too. Even now — who knows? — the next Mary Shelley may be lying quietly in her tower-top room, just waiting for a thunderstorm.” – Le Guin, “Myth and Archetype in Science Fiction”

See also:

TO REGENDER THE MONOMYTH:

 

URSULA K. LE GUIN ON PHILIP PULLMAN:

 

URSULA K. LE GUIN DIDN’T LIKE NEIL GAIMAN’S REPRESENTATION OF GODS

 

“‘The first robot to walk the earth was a bronze giant called Talos”

 

‘The first robot to walk the earth was a bronze giant called Talos. This wondrous machine was created not by MIT Robotics Lab, but by Hephaestus, the Greek god of invention. More than 2,500 years ago, long before medieval automata, and centuries before technology made self-moving devices possible, Greek mythology was exploring ideas about creating artificial life—and grappling with still-unresolved ethical concerns about biotechne, “life through craft.” In the compelling, richly illustrated Gods and Robots, Adrienne Mayor tells the fascinating story of how ancient Greek, Roman, Indian, and Chinese myths envisioned artificial life, automata, self-moving devices, and human enhancements—and how these visions relate to and reflect the ancient invention of real animated machines.’

[Via]