Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Defense of the God of the Dead

It was uncommonly cold today, and there was a strike in the Port of Piraeus. Many of the ships refused to bring clients to shore.

I was waiting on the sidewalk in front of the Acropolis Museum to see if ours were going to arrive until finally G called me and told me to hang tight. He didn’t even have them yet and it was a snarly-toothed mess so make myself comfortable. WHOOSH! I ducked into a coffee shop and here I sit, Lady Gaga half naked and dancing her skeletal butt off on the silenced monitor above my head.

Speaking of worthless entertainment, I saw “Clash of the Titans” in 3-D. I knew I would cave. I could not resist seeing a modernized Medusa, or Pegasus, or a Kraken’s tentacles coming out at me, but really the highlight of the movie was the ambrosia-like combination of popcorn and Diet Coke (I’d drink the regular stuff if I could but alas...blood sugar disorders are such a bore)

There are no regrets of having seen it. Thoughts of how I would do it differently have been flooding my head all night and day. I want to start with the most glaring cliche in my book, which is Ralph Fiennes’ portrayal of wicked, wicked Hades.

I’ve gone through my Mythology books over and over again and nowhere have I found it written that Hades is a villain. Dismal and unwavering, maybe, but not evil.

 There are three things we know about Hades:
*He was included with Zeus and Poseidon in drawing lots for the three realms. There is nothing that says that one lot was considered superior to the others, even if the sea and the sky might sound more desirable. Being that Hades is “the unseen,” it seems that he was the natural choice for such a position.

*He had a wife, Persephone. She was very beautiful, and while it is true that he snatched her up like a thief, there are some stories of him bouncing around with nymphs and mortals and making her purple with jealousy. We can assume from this that he was at least desirable to a few quirky girls.

*He was moved to mercy by music. This is in the only case we know of that he allowed a soul to return from the dead, setting only one rule, that Orpheus not look back to see that she was following. It was a test of trust and Orpheus failed and so lost Eurydice forever.

I have even read that Hades was actually a passive and balanced god, undesired by the rest of the Olympeans for his dark, morbid personality. Any of us who have dark and morbid thoughts understand this. Many of us decide to wear a different face for the other “gods,” which, actually, is the same for Hades. Did you know, according to many sources, he is just the other face of Dionysus, that happy, buzzing god of wine and nature, running through the forests with the maenads? Why wouldn’t the god who encourages us to get outside of ourselves, who reminds us that there is a cycle to life, be the gentle side of death. “Don’t be afraid. It’s natural.”

I quote from the ultimate book of online wisdom, Wikipedia:

The philosopher Heraclitus, unifying opposites, declared that Hades and Dionysus, the very essence of indestructible life zoĆ«, are the same god.[10] Amongst other evidence Carl Kerenyi notes that the grieving goddess Demeter refused to drink wine, which is the gift of Dionysus, after Persephone's abduction, because of this association, and suggests that Hades may in fact have been a 'cover name' for the underworld Dionysus.[11] Furthermore he suggests that this dual identity may have been familiar to those who came into contact with the Mysteries (Kerenyi 1976, p. 240). One of the epithets of Dionysus was "Chthonios", meaning "the subterranean" (Kerenyi 1976, p. 83).[12]





If I were to write Hades into a movie, I would acknowledge that there is a business to sorting out the dead. I would show a tired, weary ruler, who maybe didn’t understand how difficult and sad his work would be. Abraham Lincoln, for instance, might have made an excellent Hades. It is a difficult, thorny, but altogether necessary position.

I’m not afraid of the underworld. In my movie, it’s a quiet, sleeping place where souls recover from the shock of what was their life. I imagine them wrapped in cocoons with Persephone coming and laying a cool hand on their foreheads saying, “ Rest, you’re safe now. No harm will come to you here.”

All Greek myths have a purpose. They are a code to our own nature and an attempt to explain (and in some cases, deify) why we are the way we are. Don’t be ashamed of being jealous; even the gods are jealous. Even the gods kill. Even the gods love. Even the gods are wrong.  It’s natural.

But what I meant to move onto is that vilifying Hades also has a purpose, for he becomes the target for all of the anger of the ones the dead have left behind. He’s also the fear that drives us to fight for life. No, Hades is no villain. Hades is a hero.