Prometheus Ticks Off Zeus, Part 3

Published August 13, 2015 by Iphis of Scyros

Finally, we’re up to the part I actually set out for in the first place!  Yay!  This time, although the narrative assumes you’re reading straight off of the previous post, there’s actually a time jump between them.  And the title’s not really appropriate anymore, but…I liked it, so I’m sticking with it.  (It’ll be more appropriate in the later parts.  Yes, there are still more parts to come.)


A few years after the birth of Prometheus’ son, Epimetheus and Pandora had a beautiful daughter, who was named Pyrrha, even though she didn’t have red hair, a name which confused her parents greatly.  The name was Prometheus’ idea, and he wouldn’t explain it to his brother and sister-in-law, because it was sure to go over their heads; he was naming her after the fire he had stolen from Zeus, which had caused the god’s fiery temper to send the baby’s mother down to marry Epimetheus in a failed attempt at punishment.

Prometheus didn’t have to explain the name, because the one person who needed to get the reference got it, and every time he heard the name, it made him grind his teeth in fury, and contemplate hurling a thunderbolt at anything and everything he saw, but particularly at Prometheus.  The other gods didn’t dare leave Zeus alone for a minute, for fear he would lay waste to the entire realm below out of his anger at Prometheus.

As the years passed, Deucalion and Pyrrha slowly grew up.  Now, life for them was rather an odd thing.  They knew only their parents, the bronze men from the village, and the occasional Oceanid, dryad, or other immortal.  Their parents and their immortal guests often talked about going to the village as going to the “mortal village,” so they early on began to associate being mortal with being bronze.  But then one day Pyrrha made a comment about herself as  immortal, and was surprised to find her uncle raising his hand as if to strike her.

He refrained when he saw the look of fear on her face, but his anger had not subsided.  “Don’t think yourself immortal, Pyrrha,” Prometheus told her.  “You’re even more mortal than the bronze men are, being made only of fragile flesh.”

“But why do you call it the mortal village, then?  Are you different than I am, even though we have the same flesh and blood?”

“I am,” her uncle told her.  “You’re mortal, and I am immortal.”

“But why?”

“Because your mother is mortal, and little girls must be as their mothers are,” Prometheus answered.  It was a lazy and cheap answer, but he had long ago learned that ‘why’ was the endless question that children would ask forever if you let them.

“Then I must be immortal like you,” his son suddenly said, entering the conversation.

“No, you aren’t,” Prometheus sighed sadly.  “You should be, but you aren’t.”  He sat down, and took hold of his son’s hand.  “I wanted to wait until you were older to explain this, but perhaps now is as good a time as any.”  He paused uncomfortably before continuing.  “There are two things anyone needs to be immortal.  They must have at least one immortal parent–preferably two–and they must be fed only on nectar and ambrosia, the food of immortality, particularly when they’re young.  After they’ve hit a certain age, they can partake of mortal foods without risk, but as infants, mortal foods confer mortality on a child who would otherwise be immortal.  When you were born, if you could have been fed on ambrosia, you would have become immortal as your mother and I are, but Zeus and the other gods prevented that from happening, so you are mortal, just as Pyrrha is.  That is part of Zeus’ punishment to me, that I must watch my son grow old and die.”

“Why does Zeus want to punish you?” Deucalion asked.  “You’re always saying to come inside whenever there’s a storm, in case he tries to hit us with lightning.  Why would he do that?”

Prometheus was reluctant, but sadly explained the whole feud.  He told the children how the Titans ruled over the world before the gods defeated them and threw them down into Tartaros, and how Prometheus and Epimetheus had kept out of that fight, but Zeus and the other gods still distrusted and resented them for being Titans all the same.  And how Zeus had frowned on Prometheus for creating mortals, and how Prometheus had been forced to steal fire to keep the mortals alive in the cold of the winter, and how all those terrible, stinging vices had been sent down to the mortal world with Pyrrha’s mother as a punishment from Zeus, though they weren’t able to do much to Prometheus other than annoy him a little.

“We should stamp out all those vices,” Pyrrha suggested.  “It’s painful when they bite you.  My arm swelled up awfully big.”

“It did, and that’s why you shouldn’t go outside without me or your father to protect you,” Prometheus told her.  “Preferably me.  Your father’s somewhat useless.”

I’ll protect Pyrrha,” Deucalion insisted proudly.

“I don’t think you could protect yourself, let alone someone else,” Prometheus chuckled.  “Not until you get older.”

Deucalion insisted that he could protect his cousin just fine, but he didn’t fight against his father’s order to stay in the house without adult supervision.  He was, after all, a good boy, on the whole.

As the children grew into adulthood, they began to grow into new feelings for each other that they weren’t entirely sure what to do about.  Now that they were grown-ups themselves, they were allowed to go outside freely, and they asked around in the village, but none of the bronze men had ever had such feelings before, or none that they would admit to Deucalion, at any rate.

Pyrrha asked her mother about them, and Pandora told her everything that Hera had once told her about a wife’s secret duties to her husband.  Pyrrha was red-faced for days, and couldn’t look Deucalion in the face for nearly a week, and even after that, kept blushing whenever she saw him, to the extent that he became quite worried that she was dreadfully ill.  He asked his father about it, and Prometheus gave her an examination, and pronounced her to be thoroughly healthy.  That didn’t reassure Deucalion in the slightest, so he tried asking his mother, instead.  She spoke to Pandora about it, and the two of them laughed about it, and told Deucalion that Pyrrha’s condition was one of the heart, and it was a very happy thing, and that he shouldn’t worry at all, and should just be patient until she learned how to control it.  That only placated his worries a little because it assured him that there was a safe end in sight.

In order to distract himself from Pyrrha’s condition–whatever it was–Deucalion decided to spend some time in the village of the bronze men.  While there, he started organizing the men to try and hunt down those annoying little vices.  They didn’t much bother the bronze men, of course, since their stingers couldn’t penetrate the bronze, but they certainly bothered Deucalion!  The bronze men always enjoyed spending time with Deucalion, so they were happy to do ask he asked, and parties were sent out in every direction, to all the little farms that had spread out across the region, hunting for the horrid little vices.

By the end of the expedition, many of the vices lay dead, in pools of their own sickly green ichor.

But many of the bronze men had dropped their torches in the process of their hunts, and fires raged throughout forests and fields.  A few bronze men were trying to put out the fires closest to their huts, but most were ignoring them.

On Mt. Olympos, Zeus scowled down at the fires burning out of control.  “That’s it!” he shouted.  “I’m not putting up with this for a moment longer!”  He called for the winds to gather up all the storm clouds they could.

“What are you planning, Father?” Athene asked.

“I’m going to drown out all the fires in the world below,” Zeus said firmly.  “And maybe take those irritating bronze men with them.”

Athene wasn’t entirely sure about the idea of drowning the bronze men–they were a little uncouth at times, and certainly had no respect for the gods, but they didn’t seem entirely unsalvageable, either–but she wasn’t about to argue with the idea of putting out those fires.  “What about the other mortals?  Prometheus’ son and–”

“The children of Titans are as guilty as their parents,” Zeus replied, even as he started the rain falling on the world below.

“But Father…your own father is a Titan,” Athene pointed out.  Zeus didn’t seem to hear her.

Down below, it began to rain.

It rained and it rained, and it didn’t stop.  It didn’t stop and it didn’t stop, and the rain began to accumulate.  Rivers overflowed their banks, and lakes began to flood and rise up, filling valleys, even as rivers began inching their way up the sides of mountains.

Poseidon came up to Mt. Olympos to see what Zeus was up to as the salty sea began to mix with the fresh river water, making a colossal mess everywhere.  “What are you doing?” he asked, looking at the maniacal look on Zeus’ face.  “Do you know it hasn’t stopped raining for three days?  Half those bronze men have already drowned.  It’s going to be a right mess to clean that up when the flood subsides, and it’s all going to flow downstream into my living room, you know.”

“It’s not going to stop raining for several days yet,” Zeus told him.  “Some of the fires aren’t out yet.”

“They look all out to me,” Ares said, peering down at the land.  As usual, no one listened to him.

“But what about the corpses in my living room!?!” Poseidon shouted.  He was not going to let go of that one so easily.

“They belong to Prometheus.  Make him clean them up,” Zeus laughed.

Poseidon muttered something under his breath about the impossibility of forcing Prometheus to do anything, but he didn’t press the issue.  Zeus was clearly not himself at present, and arguing with him wasn’t going to accomplish anything.  Better to let him vent his anger, then maybe he’d go back to normal and they could all relax a little…

Down on the mortal plane, as the flood waters were rising, Prometheus was in the village of the bronze men, alternating between trying to find a way to get them to safety and trying to talk the winds into blowing the storm away.  Neither was working, of course, and he was soon entirely underwater, having to glub his way home.

As their house was subsumed in the waves, Deucalion and Pyrrha found themselves doing their best to swim, clinging to the sides of one of the only things that was floating; the chest that Pandora had brought with her from Olympos.

“You know, this chest is big enough that we could sit in it,” Pyrrha suggested.  “Let’s do that instead of just holding on to the outside.”

“My arms are getting tired,” Deucalion agreed, opening the lid of the chest.  He climbed inside, and then helped Pyrrha in, before closing the lid to keep the rain out.  But then they found that they were cold and wet and clammy, because their clothes were soaked.

Blushing–though no one could see in the darkness within the chest–Pyrrha suggested that they would have to get rid of their wet clothes.  Once they did that, they soon warmed up inside the chest…

The chest floated with its mortal cargo through the floodwaters as the bronze men all drowned, and all the fires went out.  After the rain finally stopped–and it only stopped because Hera finally managed to distract Zeus by calling him into bed with her–and the flooding began to recede, the chest came to a landing on Mt. Parnassos.

The hapless mortals within were reluctant to come out at first, but once they did, they found that they were once again on dry land, and that there was no sign of anyone about.

They found their way to where the village of the bronze men had been, but it was gone.  They found where their home had been–and found some clothes to replace the ones they had cast out of the chest–but their parents weren’t there.  Deucalion and Pyrrha were utterly alone in an empty world, and it was hard for them to keep from weeping at the thought.

Since Zeus was still distracted, the rest of the gods decided that they felt sorry for the mortals, and elected to give them a message, one chance to improve their lot.  They played a quick game of chance to see who would go speak to them, and Hermes lost.  (Or seemed to lose, at any rate.)

Hermes appeared before them, and smiled at them in a friendly way.  Unlike when he had appeared before them in the past–and he had done so many times, because he found it fun to mess with mortals–this time he wore his own appearance.  “If you would not be the only mortals on this earth, then you must throw your mother’s bones over your shoulders,” he told them, and then dashed off again.  It was a fairly simple riddle, he thought, and the son of Prometheus should have no problem solving it.

“But my mother’s immortal,” Deucalion objected in the direction of the disappearing god.  “And she’s not even here!”

“I don’t think he meant it literally,” Pyrrha sighed.  “I wonder where my mother is,” she added, looking around.  “Your father said she’s mortal, like us.  Does that mean she drowned, or did my father save her?”

“It doesn’t seem very respectable, throwing bones around,” Deucalion grumbled.

“I don’t think we’re supposed to be throwing actual bones,” Pyrrha insisted.  “It’s a riddle, I’m sure of it.”  She frowned, and kicked at the dirt with one dainty foot.  A stone came unlodged, and tumbled away from her toes.  “Oh!  Gaia is the mother of all creation, isn’t she?  That’s what he must have meant!  We should throw her bones–that is, rocks–over our shoulders!”

“Okay, but I’m not sure what good that’ll do us,” Deucalion said, picking up a handful of small stones.

“It can’t hurt, right?”  Pyrrha, too, picked up a handful of stones, and together they began to walk away from the hut, throwing the stones behind them over their shoulders.

Every time a stone hit the earth’s surface, a new mortal sprang up out of the ground, fully formed.  For every stone thrown by Deucalion, a man rose out of the ground, and for every stone thrown by Pyrrha, there arose a new woman.  Once they were out of stones, the pair turned around, and were delighted to see a whole village’s worth of people milling about behind them, naked and confused.

When he arose, Zeus was not entirely pleased that there was a whole new race of mortals on the earth, but his children all assured him that these new mortals were going to be taught to respect and even worship the gods, so they managed to convince him to let the mortals live.


 

Okay, where do I start?  The reason for the Flood, I suppose.  The familiar “to drown out wickedness” motive is not attested until Ovid, so that’s a very late version indeed.  (In fact, I think it’s plausible that that particular version is probably inspired by the Biblical version, given the strong interactions between the Romans and the Jews.  The Romans didn’t respect the Jews–or anyone else they conquered, including the Greeks–but that didn’t stop them from stealing anything and everything they could from them, and Ovid recognized good story elements when he saw them, so…yeah, definitely plausible.)  Putting out the fire Prometheus stole and drowning the bronze men (who were in that case left over from Hesiod’s stages of man thing, not hand-crafted by Prometheus) are both attested motives for the Flood in ancient sources, though not at the same time.

As to why Deucalion and Pyrrha are in Pandora’s box/chest instead of an ark, well…okay, my main source for different variations on these myths, as always is Timothy Gantz’s Early Greek Myth, and there was a brief mention there at one point that one of the–surprisingly few–direct references to the Flood does describe a “chest” rather than an ark or other traditional vessel.  That was when I knew I had to do this story, and had to have them survive the Flood in a chest built for two.  Because how freakin’ cool is that?  (Though I apologize profusely for the implication that they were getting up to hanky panky in there.  It’s just that since their clothes were wet, they were going to have take them off, and, well, um…you know…uh…yeah, I’m deeply ashamed of myself.)  Making said chest also Pandora’s box was just to complete the full cycle of “how cool is that?”  Because what’s the point of writing out all the myths like this if you’re not going to tie them all together like that?

I’m not sure if the significance I assigned to Pyrrha’s name was correct–probably not, in fact–but it made logical sense to me, and I believe it’s correct etymologically.  And it fits nicely with something that will come up later on…

And speaking of floods, or rather of trickles, my water heater started leaking.  Not sure when.  Noticed it last night, but I think it’s been doing it for a while.  The new one’s being installed later today, hopefully.  How does a $389 water heater end up costing $837?  Maybe I could have gotten the old one fixed, but…it was at least 16 years old (it was already there when I got the house) and it only had two settings:  scalding and ice-cold.  So it was kind of time for it to go.  I just wish it wasn’t so expensive.

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