Athena, wise and powerful daughter of Zeus, is the most feared of all the goddesses. Poseidon, the “earth shaker,” rules the sea with his thunderous wrath. Each wants to control Olympus absolutely. Obsessed with destroying Poseidon, Athena summons her crows by day and owls by night to spy on his vast water realm. The long-simmering feud spawns a multitude of monsters, the most terrifying of which is the brass-headed colossus Amycus.
This classic work features a sprawling cast of gods and mortals waging battle on land and by sea, from Zeus to the Titan god Prometheus, from Hades, who guards the gates of hell, to Circe, immortal weaver of spells, to the great war chief Ulysses, who sails in search of his long-lost home. Monsters of Greek Mythology brings to life fearsome creatures like giant, flame-spitting wingless dragons, a spider named Arachne, goats and swordfish endowed with magical properties, and the Cyclopes—one-eyed male and female goliaths even more powerful than the Titans.
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Monsters of Greek Mythology Volume 1
By Bernard Evslin
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 2014 Open Road Integrated Media, Inc.
All rights reserved.
The brass-headed monster, Amycus, who enslaved so many women and battered so many men to death, was born out of a quarrel between Athena, Goddess of Wisdom, and Poseidon, God of the Sea.
They both wielded tremendous power. Poseidon means "earth shaker," and he deserved the name; his wrath was catastrophe. And the tall, free-striding Athena who bore spear and shield and whose gray eyes could freeze the marrow of any human and many Olympians was the most feared of all the goddesses.
Their feud had simmered for centuries. It began when Athena, trying to read the future, guessed that a certain small fishing village would grow into a great and brilliant city whose name would be as a song amid the horrid shrieks of history. And she decided that this village of high destiny must call itself after her so that the sound of her name would fall sweetly upon the ear after the other gods were forgotten.
But Poseidon believed that he alone ruled the destinies of all who dwelt along his shores and drew their bounty from his seas. All coastal cities were his, all fishing villages. When pleased, he would send rich harvests of fish; when angered he would crush ships like walnuts, or send storms that swept all who displeased him into the sea. When he discovered that Athena was paying unusual attention to one fishing village he became very angry.
Green robed, green bearded, he loomed over the little huts like a tidal wave about to break. The people gaped in horror. His voice, pounding like the surf, forced them to their knees. He demanded that the village be given his name. Otherwise, he declared, he would starve them by withdrawing fish from their waters, send storms to wreck their ships, sea serpents to devour whoever jumped overboard, and pirates to slaughter anyone left on shore.
Before he departed, the terrified villagers vowed to do whatever he asked.
The clouds split. An arch of sunlight bridged sky and earth, and something strode down the span of light: a maiden goddess, bearing spear and shield. She towered above the village, but her voice was a mighty music and uttered no threats.
"Villagers," she said. "This is the first day of your glorious destiny. I am Athena, daughter of Zeus. I come to offer you my favor forever and to honor you with the gift of my name. Under my blessing shall this cluster of huts grow into a marble city, famed for wit, wisdom, and skill in warfare—which of course brings wealth. So arise, lucky ones, get up off your knees. Stand proud. Under my protection shall you survive and prosper despite all the threats of blowhard Poseidon."
Hearing the musical voice utter these words, gazing upon the stern, radiant goddess, the villagers felt their spirits soar, and decided to ignore the threats of Poseidon.
"Yes!" they cried. "All honor, Great Goddess, all worship! We shall call our village by your name."
And from that time on, both gods sought to fulfill threat and promise. Poseidon never stopped tormenting the Athenians, and Athena sought always to protect them. And the feud between powerful niece and stormy uncle grew more and more vicious, and was to entangle many lives, to cause a horde of deaths, and to spawn a multitude of monsters—the worst of whom, perhaps, was the Horrible Head, also known as Amycus.CHAPTER 2
Now, everything about Poseidon irritated Athena, but she was particularly annoyed by his arrogance. All the gods had tremendous opinions of themselves. They all strode proudly and seemed to glow with a sense of being exactly who they were and no one else. But to the eye of his brooding niece, Poseidon seemed to swagger more and be puffed up with the idea of his own importance more than any other god. Worst of all though, Athena thought bitterly, her obnoxious uncle had cause to exult.
For of all the prayers that thronged the air and mounted to heaven, the most frequent and most passionate were those addressed to Poseidon. There was good reason for this. Those who worshiped the Olympians were largely seagoing people—sailors, fisherfolk, pirates. Before every voyage they visited Poseidon's driftwood altars and sacrificed to him, and prayed for fair weather and following winds and safe landfalls. And when, very frequently, the god turned contrary and sent storms and killer tides and savage sea raiders, then, instead of losing faith, the voyagers were terrified into deeper belief, and their prayers grew more fervent than ever.
Athena, studying this, felt her hatred growing so fast she thought she must burst. But she was intelligent enough to learn from what displeased her, and she told herself that the way to injure Poseidon was to make his worshipers lose faith in his powers. And the way to do this was to intensify the peril, to plant special monstrous dangers upon the sea—creatures and events that would destroy ships and crews, and finally teach humankind that the richest sacrifices and most heartfelt prayers to the sea god would not keep them from harm.
This would not be an easy process, she knew; it would take a long time and much skillful plotting ... flotillas of ships sent to the bottom and hordes of sailors to be drowned, or to meet even worse death. With so much to do then, she set to work immediately.
Athena was known as the wise one not only because she reasoned brilliantly and inspired men like Daedalus to invent the wheel and the plow and the rudder, but because she seemed to know everything about everyone. Indeed, she went to a great deal of trouble to gather this information, training her pet owl to spy upon all the gods and certain humans.
The owl with its silent, gliding wings, its night-piercing eyes, and ears that could pick up the fall of a distant leaf, was perfectly framed for spying—particularly at night, when most secret things are done. And by day a flock of crows, instructed by the owl herself, flew here and there, spying, prying, noticing, and reporting back to the owl, who sifted the information and brought the interesting bits back to Athena. For among its many tricks the clever bird could also speak Greek.
Upon a certain day the owl flew up to Olympus, found Athena, perched on her shoulder and spoke into her ear.
"Oh Goddess, a crow has flown all the way from Sicily to tell me that Mount Aetna is erupting."
"Nonsense," said Athena. "It's forbidden to erupt. Zeus himself quenched the fires of that raging mountain, hollowed it out and presented it to his son, Hephaestus, to use as a smithy. Therein labor the Cyclopes who forge thunderbolts for Zeus, and weapons and armor and ornaments for the rest of us."
"Nevertheless," said the owl, "the mountain is belching red smoke, and trembling so hard that huge boulders are rolling down its flanks toward the villages below. And all who dwell there are fleeing that part of Sicily."
"It will not erupt, it cannot erupt," said Athena. "What's happening, no doubt, is that the Cyclopes are fighting again. They do that now and then. They're so incredibly strong and their tempers so savage that they sometimes stop working and use their mallets on each other. The fallen ones are flung into the forge fires; therefore does the mountain belch red smoke. And Aetna shakes when the Cyclopes do battle, and rocks roll down its slopes. When Hephaestus arrives and decrees a truce, the Cyclopes will stop fighting and the mountain will stop trembling."
"That may be so, Goddess. But the villagers are still fleeing, and there is great grief and confusion upon the land."
"I shall go there myself and calm them," said Athena.
Whereupon she flew to Sicily and laid a sweet swoon upon the fleeing villagers, and appeared to each of them in the form of a dream, promising them that Aetna would not erupt and that they might return to their homes and dwell in safety.
The villagers awoke, rejoicing. Right there in the field where the strange sleep had overtaken them, they built altars to Athena and Hephaestus and loaded them with fruit and flowers. Singing songs of praise, they returned to their homes.
Athena lingered in Sicily, enjoying the prayers of thanksgiving and the hymns of praise. "Since we're here," she said to her owl, "we'll go and visit that famous smithy. I've never seen the Cyclopes at work and I'm curious about them."
The smoke from the mountain mingled with the morning mists as Athena approached. Making herself invisible, she flew up to the crater, then floated gently down into it, down through darkening air into the great smithy that was the workshop of Hephaestus.
It was an enormous chamber, taking up the whole inside of the mountain. For Aetna was just a shell. Ages before, when it was an active volcano, earth's primal fire had eaten up through its roots, melting its rocky guts—which had then spewed out as red-hot lava. After Zeus quenched the flames with a sudden torrent of rain that had flooded the entire countryside, he had ordered the Cyclopes to hollow out the rest of the mountain, informing them that this was to be their home and their workplace forevermore.
Athena knew all this, of course; it was family history, but she had never actually visited the smithy before. Now she stared about in amazement. The Cyclopes, male and female, were tall as trees and their half-naked bodies writhed with muscle as they moved about their gigantic labor of forging thunderbolts for Zeus, and weapons and armor for the other gods. The hafts of their sledges were oak trunks, peeled of bark and trimmed of branches. The sledge heads were thousand-pound lumps of fire-tempered iron. And they swung these stupendous mallets like tack hammers.
Not all of them were working at the anvils. Some were making charcoal, tossing whole uprooted trees into the flames. Others were using shovels as big as skiffs, scooping up the charcoal and using it to feed the forge fires, which had to be coal fed to melt metal.
The noise would have shattered the eardrums of anyone who was not a god or goddess. The clanging of sledge against anvil, the crackle of the flames and the wild yelling of the Cyclopes made the loudest clamor Athena had ever heard. But she did not mind it at all. The scene was too fascinating, as interesting as a battle, or an earthquake or tidal wave. For Athena doted on violence, and moved among dire events as easily as a gull riding storm winds.
Unseen by anyone, she slid through the smoke toward one young Cyclops and studied him as he worked. Even his maimed head set upon those magnificent shoulders seemed splendid to her. The single eye embedded in the middle of his forehead was as large as two eyes—big and lustrous, full of innocent savagery like a tiger's eye—but glowing with a kind of proud pain known only to those who feel themselves different from everyone else.
She watched him as he swung his sledge, shaping a red-hot bar of metal. He laid down his sledge, picked up a pair of tongs, nipped the bar, and dipped it into a bucket of water. Steam hissed up, veiling his body. When the steam cleared, he was oiled with sweat and shone like a newly gilded statue. He dropped his tongs and with one hand swung up an enormous keg of water—put it to his lips and drank it all down in one long swallow. He cast the keg aside, picked up a full one and emptied it over his head, drenching himself. Laughing, he wrung out his hair, then picked up his sledge again.
Athena was known for her icy calm in all situations. Now, however, she felt herself being torn by strange feelings. Suddenly, she knew she had to stop breathing this smoky air; it was choking her. With her, as with all gods, wish was action. She wafted herself up, up through sooty shadows, up through the crater and out onto a slope of Aetna.
Athena kept thinking of the Cyclopes after she left the smithy. "They must be the strongest creatures in all the world," she said to herself. "More powerful than the Titans, who are their closest kin. Oh, how I'd like to have an island full of them, right in the middle of Poseidon's sea. I'd be able to do so much with them. I'd inflame their appetites, implant them with so gluttonous a craving for meat that they would devour all the cattle on their island and turn to cannibalism—swimming out to capsize ships, plucking the sailors out of the water and eating them raw. Oh, what a menace to shipping they'd be. More so even than the Sirens perching on jagged rocks, calling sailors to drown. More destructive than my witch, Circe, who lures entire ships' companies into her castle and turns them into swine.... Yes, they work well, Circe and the Sirens, and have done me good service. But these Cyclopes, if I can only get them somehow, would destroy more ships and crews than all the rest of my monsters put together ... But how can I persuade them to leave their smithy? They are creatures of habit and have labored there for thousands of years. I must think very hard about this ..."
The goddess stood near the top of the mountain, gazing across a sunstruck plain toward a silver glimmer of sea. The sound of mallets striking anvils drifted from the crater; filtered by rock, they chimed like bells. Thinking very hard, she spun one plan after another. One after another, she discarded them. As she pondered, one picture kept flashing in her head: the huge, sweaty young smith hoisting a heavy keg of water and gulping it down, tossing that keg aside, lifting another and pouring it over his head, the grimed one-eyed face grinning under the cascade.
"They work amid flame," she murmured. "They breathe smoke and charcoal dust. Coolness must they crave. Every pore of their parched hides must lust for moisture. Yes-s-s, that giant lad with his buckets gives me a clue."
She knew what she wanted to do now, but she had to wait until nightfall. When the moon had climbed and waned and the chiming of hammers had ceased, she knew that the Cyclopes slept. She stretched her arms and turned slowly, weaving a spell. The owl rose from her shoulder and hovered over her head, pivoting in the air as the goddess turned on the grass.
Athena sent the Cyclopes cool dreams. She slid seascape visions through the crater into their sleep: swirling tides, foam-laced waves, and the changing colors of the deep as the sun sifted through water—jade green on top, turning blue, becoming purple, then blue-black, all of it cold, cold, colder. She shuffled dreams all night long, one seascape after another. The older Cyclopes awoke refreshed and went to work immediately. But the younger ones were tangled in their dreams and couldn't cast them off. Nor did they wish to. Overnight their smithy had become loathsome to them. They felt they could not breathe one more breath of the hot smoky air. The blue core of the forge fire became flickers of the blue sea. They felt their salt blood dance in their veins, pulling them out of the crater toward the shore.CHAPTER 3
Owl and Seal
Indeed, twelve young Cyclopes did find themselves entangled in their cool dreams when they awoke the next morning. They looked about the great sooty chamber and couldn't believe that they had consented to spend so much of their life there, and were expected to labor there through eternity. They studied the waiting anvils, the smouldering forge fires, the sullen heaps of charcoal; they gazed upon the other Cyclopes still sunk in slumber. It all made no sense to them; only their sea dream seemed real.
"Let's do it," muttered one named Brontes. He was the giant youth who had doused himself with water as Athena watched. He picked up his mallet and strode out of the smithy and the others followed. They filed through a chain of linked caves; the final one opened out upon a slope of Aetna, near its base.
Athena, still perched near the top of the mountain, heard them shouting as they burst out of the cave. She looked down and saw them running off the slope, into the forest. She watched them as they disappeared into the woods, and listened to their wild yelling as if it were music. For the goddess knew that her magic was working, that she had cast her dream as skillfully as a fisherman casting his net—that she had caught the Cyclopes in her vision, and that they were being pulled toward the sea.
In that part of Sicily, then, the woods ran right down to a strip of beach. Brontes stopped at the fringe of the forest, laid down his mallet, wrapped his arms about the trunk of a tree and began to pull. Straining every muscle, he tried to wrench it out of the ground. This tree was well grown and had a deep root system. But Brontes, in the early prime of his enormous strength made even stronger by joy, pulled the roots right out of the clinging earth, and cast the tree on the beach. Each of his comrades was also uprooting a tree. When twelve trees lay on the beach, Cyclopes lashed them together with vines and made a huge, heavy raft.
Excerpted from Monsters of Greek Mythology Volume 1 by Bernard Evslin. Copyright © 2014 Open Road Integrated Media, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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