Hollywood Has Nothing on the Insanity of the Real Greek Myths
Hollywood Has Nothing on the Insanity of the Real Greek Myths

Hollywood Has Nothing on the Insanity of the Real Greek Myths

Khalid Elhassan - July 21, 2022

Hollywood Has Nothing on the Insanity of the Real Greek Myths
Hera and Zeus, by Antoine Coypel. Flickr

6. In Greek Mythology, A Heavily Pregnant Leto Was Forced to Ceaselessly Wander the World

Although the chief Olympian god’s affair with Leto and her resultant pregnancy had occurred before Hera’s marriage to Zeus, the Queen of Heaven was still jealous of Leto. So Zeus’ wife set out to turn the life of her hubby’s ex into a living hell. First, Hera kicked the pregnant Leto out of Mount Olympus, so she was forced to wander the world amongst mortals. Then, when it was time to give birth, the Queen of Heaven saw to it that the childbirth was as miserable as could be, by prolonging Leto’s labor.

Hollywood Has Nothing on the Insanity of the Real Greek Myths
Leto. Greek Legends and Myths.

Hera decreed that Leto could not give birth on “terra firma” – the mainland or any island under the sun. She then sent emissaries to all cities and settlements, to forbid them to offer Leto shelter, food, or water. Leto was thus forced to continuously wander the earth, without a chance to settle down anywhere to give birth. Zeus’ heavily pregnant ex crisscrossed the world for years while in labor, unable to find a resting place. She eventually came across a barren island not connected to the ocean floor, which did not count as an “island” by Hera’s definition.

Hollywood Has Nothing on the Insanity of the Real Greek Myths
Leto and the Lycian peasants, by Le Jeune, 1806, depicts peasants denying water to Leto and her newborn twins. Maicar

5. Even for a Deity, Hera Might Have Gone Over the Top in Her Vindictiveness Towards Leto

The barrenness of the island discovered by Leto also meant it had nothing to lose, and thus had nothing to fear from Hera if it defied her will. There, Leto finally gave birth to the gods Artemis and Apollo. Hera, now even more jealous of Leto after she gave birth to Zeus’ children, sent a dragon to chase her and her newborns around. In their flight, they sought refuge in Lycia, whose peasants, on Hera’s instructions, sought to prevent Leto and her infants from drinking water.

Hollywood Has Nothing on the Insanity of the Real Greek Myths
Hulsman, Johann; Latona Transforming the Peasants into Frogs; The Fitzwilliam Museum; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/latona-transforming-the-peasants-into-frogs-4457

So Leto turned them into frogs, before the infant Apollo eventually slew the dragon. Hera also sent the gigantic Titan Tityos to assault Leto. She was once again saved by her children, Apollo and Artemis, who ended their mother’s would-be assailant. Hera eventually came to terms with the situation, accepted things as they were, and let Leto and her children be. Leto then went on to become a goddess of motherhood, with a divine portfolio that also included protection of the young.

Hollywood Has Nothing on the Insanity of the Real Greek Myths
A sixth century BC depiction of Dionysus extending a wine cup. Wikimedia

4. The King Who Beefed With the God of Wine

Lycurgus of Thrace was a mythical king of the Edoni people in southern Thrace, and he had a beef with Dionysus, the Greek god of grapes and wine. According to Greek mythology, Lycurgus got drunk on wine and tried to forcibly slake his lust upon his own mother. When he sobered up and realized what he had almost done, he swore off the drink, became a teetotaler. He also enacted a version of Prohibition in his kingdom: he banned wine, and ordered the destruction of all grape vines throughout the realm. Lycurgus also banned the religious cult of Dionysus, whom he refused to acknowledge as divine, and prohibited the worship of the grape god in his kingdom.

Hollywood Has Nothing on the Insanity of the Real Greek Myths
Dionysus. Jewish Expert.

Dionysus was a god, and was thus not inclined to heed the dictates of a mortal, not even a mortal king. So when his disciples, the Maenads, threw a festival in honor of the wine god atop the sacred mountain of Nyseion in Lycurgus’ kingdom, Dionysus took on human form and attended as the guest of honor. When Lycurgus heard that his command had been defied and that Dionysus was in his kingdom, he flew into a rage and rushed to Mount Nyseion to break up the party. There, he slew with an ax a Maenad who had nursed Dionysius as a child, and chased the festival attendants out with an ox goad.

Hollywood Has Nothing on the Insanity of the Real Greek Myths
The madness of Lycurgus of Thrace, as depicted in a fourth century BC vase. Theoi

3. In Greek Mythology, the God of Wine Was Not All Fun and Games

To save himself from the livid Lycurgus, Dionysus in human form was forced to flee, and to escape the wrath of the angry king, leapt into the sea. There, Dionysus was rescued by the sea nymph Thetis, who kindly received the wine god and sheltered him in an undersea cave. In the meantime, Lycurgus conducted an anti-Dionysian purge throughout his kingdom. He carried out a persecution in which the Maenads and other followers of Dionysus were rounded up, arrested, and imprisoned. Understandably, Dionysus was greatly angered by Lycurgus disrespect and impiety. His divine punishment was take away the Thracian king’s sanity, and reduce him to a raving loon.

Hollywood Has Nothing on the Insanity of the Real Greek Myths
Dionysus, Greek god of revelry and wine. Encyclopedia Britannica.

In Greek mythology, a crazed Lycurgus slew his wife and family. He had ordered all grape vines cut down, and in a fit of insanity, the deranged monarch mistook his own son for a vine. He chopped him up with a sword, and pruned away his ears, nose, fingers and toes. Dionysus was still not done with him, however. The wine god laid a curse upon Lycurgus’ kingdom, which rendered its soil barren and unable to produce fruit. The desperate Edonians sought advice from an oracle, who informed them that fertility would not return to their land while Lycurgus was alive. So the Edonians seized their king, tied him up, and flung him to a man-eating horse, which tore Lycurgus to pieces.

Hollywood Has Nothing on the Insanity of the Real Greek Myths
Diana and Actaeon, by Titian, 1559. Wikimedia

2. The Hunter Taught His Skills by a Centaur

The Ancient Greeks’ worldview and mythology differed greatly from the orderly worldview of the major monotheistic religions, which worship an omniscient, omnipotent, and infallible God. The Ancient Greeks often saw their gods as arbitrary and capricious, and few myths depict that conception of the Olympians’ arbitrariness and capriciousness as does the myth of Actaeon. His fate differs from that of those described in most entries in this article, mortal or immortal beings who did something to invite the wrath of the gods.

Hollywood Has Nothing on the Insanity of the Real Greek Myths
Centaur. Cultural Bestiary.

If those unfortunates did not actively invite the wrath of the gods, then they at least found themselves in a situation in which the wrath of a good was understandable, even if unjustified. Actaeon on the other hand, endured a divine punishment despite the fact that he had not done anything of his own volition that could have justified his fate. In Greek mythology, Actaeon was a famous Theban hero, who loved to hunt in the outback of his native region of Boeotia. Like the hero Achilles, of Iliad fame, Actaeon had been taught to hunt by the centaur Chiron.

Hollywood Has Nothing on the Insanity of the Real Greek Myths
The demise of Actaeon, as depicted in an ancient Greek vase. Theoi

1. Accidentally Seeing a Naked Goddess Was Bad News for This Mortal

Chiron was a mythical creature with the lower body of a horse, and the torso and upper body of a human. He was notable in Greek mythology and legend for his youth-nurturing nature. He instilled in Actaeon a passion for the hunt that proved the Theban hero’s undoing. One day, Actaeon was out hunting with his dogs in Boeotia. He unwittingly stumbled upon the chaste goddess Artemis – Diana to the Romans – while she was naked, bathing in a spring with some wood nymphs.

Hollywood Has Nothing on the Insanity of the Real Greek Myths
Actaeon stumbling upon Artemis. Deviant Art.

Although the extent of Actaeon’s sin, if it could even be called that, was to simply have had the misfortune of bumping into a naked goddess, Artemis was livid that a mortal saw her naked. So in her wrath, she turned him into a stag. The terrified Actaeon bounded into the woods, but his own dogs detected the scent of a stag. They failed to recognize their master in his new body, chased him down, and tore him to pieces.

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Where Did We Find This Stuff? Some Sources and Further Reading

Bulfinch, Thomas – Bulfinch’s Mythology (1998)

Cracked – Movies vs Ancient Mythology

Dalby, Andrew – The Story of Bacchus (2005)

Dictionary of Shakespeare’s Classical Mythology – Ixion

Encyclopedia Britannica – Cronus

Encyclopedia Britannica – Ixion

Encyclopedia Britannica – Tantalus

Encyclopedia Mythica – Actaeon

Encyclopedia Mythica – Lycurgus of Thrace

Evslin, Bernard – Gods, Demigods and Demons: A Handbook of Greek Mythology (2006)

Fry, Stephen – Heroes: The Greek Myths Reimagined (2018)

Fry, Stephen – Mythos: A Retelling of the Myths of Ancient Greece (2019)

Gantz, Timothy – Early Greek Myth: A Guide to Literary and Artistic Sources (1993)

Genealogical Guide to Greek Mythology – Actaeon

Graves, Robert – The Greek Myths (1992)

Gray, Louis Herbert, ed.The Mythology of All Races, Volume 1: Greek and Roman (1916)

Greek Mythology – Hercules: The Life of the Greek Hero

Greek Mythology – Io

Greeka – Io and Zeus

Greeka – The Danaides

Harvard Studies in Classical Philology, Vol. 13 (1902) – A Study of the Danaid Myth

History Collection – Hollywood’s Witch Hunt Created a Communist Blacklist for These Celebrities

Keefer, Professor Julia, New York University – The Myth of Sisyphus by Albert Camus

Mayor, Adrienne – The Amazons: Lives and Legends of Warrior Women Across the Ancient World (2014)

Mythopedia – Leto

Peabody, Josephine Preston, Tales Beyond Belief – The Myth of Niobe

Screen Rant – Disney’s Hercules: 10 Things That Would be Different if the Movie Was Mythologically Accurate

Theoi – Artemis Wrath

Theoi – Kronos

Theoi – The Titaness Leto

World History Encyclopedia – Amazon Women

World History Encyclopedia – Prometheus

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