Natural—and supernatural—history of the thunderbolt-hurling deity who ruled the Greek pantheon for millennia while spreading his superseed among various, mostly uncooperative virgins around the Mediterranean.
A genial, self-deprecating and often felicitous docent, Stone (The Summer of My Greek Taverna: A Memoir, 2002, etc.) begins by noting that Zeus may have been around for some 700 years before appearing in written accounts of his exploits. The author has lived in Greece for more than 20 years, and he intercuts his complex narratives of theogony, theology, history and hysteria with descriptions of his recent travels to many of the sites long associated with Zeus. The first of these asides involves a travel agent with the unlikely name of Pericles; the last, a garrulous hotelier near Mt. Ólympus who suggests quite baldly that Erich von Däniken might have had something in Chariots of the Gods, and Stone’s confession that his fear of heights prohibited his ascension of the sacred mountain. The author opens the book in the time when Zeus was nothing but “a primal, amorphous power—the God of the Bright Sky.” Then Stone unrolls the vast, complicated tapestry of Mediterranean culture: swift, appealing accounts of doings on Crete, the unthinkably destructive volcanic eruption nearby in 1640 BCE, the rise and fall of Krónos and the Titans, the stories of Promethéus, Pandóra’s jar (box was a mistranslation), the minotaur and its labyrinth, the founding of Thebes, the exploits of Perseus, Hérakles and other primal heroes, the rise and fall of the House of Átreus, the Judgment of Paris, the Trojan War and the Peloponnesian Wars. He takes us to those moments when myth morphed into history, suggesting that Zeus’s story may have formed the foundation of the Christian ones to follow.
A lucid and lucent retelling of those most marvelous tales.