Semele

This is a post for my March book challenge, #marchmonthofmythology.

It’s time for another story of a girl that got punished by Hera because Zeus can’t stop falling in love with mortal girls. I could have just made a series out of this. Comment below with an appropriate title. I’m leaning towards ‘Zeus can’t keep it in his pants’ or ‘Zeus and Hera need couple’s therapy’, though maybe they’re a bit long.

This episode: Semele

Semele was a princess of Thebes. Zeus fell in love with her and visited her often. Often enough to get her pregnant. When Hera found out, she came up with a plan to punish the girl (or to punish Zeus through punishing the girl; who knows her exact reasoning?). She went to the palace in Thebes in the shape of an old woman and had a friendly conversation with Semele. She didn’t need much prompting to start talking about her lover: despite what you may think, not everyone can claim they’re dating Zeus! Hera-in-disguise listened politely, then pretended to doubt Semele’s story. Was she sure her lover was really Zeus? Anyone could say they were Zeus. Where was the proof? Suddenly worried, Semele asked the old woman for advice. Hera was more than willing to comply. She told Semele to ask Zeus for one wish, and to let him swear on the river Styx that he would grant it. Then, she could ask him to prove his identity: either by showing her his true form, or by touching her the way he touched Hera when they had sex.

Spoiler alert: there’s a lot of lightning and fire and death

Semele did as she was told. Zeus, so infatuated he wanted to please her in every way, agreed to her request and swore on the river Styx that he would do whatever it was she asked. This was the only oath the gods could not break. He regretted it instantly when Semele made her wish, and tried to dissuade her, but she would not budge. So Zeus very reluctantly complied. What Semele did not know, was that his true form consisted of pure lightning (or, in the case of the second version, that sex between gods is freaking extra (in this case lightning was involved as well)). He tried to be as gentle as possible, but lightning is lightning and humans can’t survive it. In a moment the whole room, including Semele, was on fire.

Zeus carries his second baby

Zeus could not save Semele, but he could save her unborn child. It was not ready to be born yet, so Zeus transferred the foetus from Semele’s uterus to his own thigh. (He was not entirely new to carrying a child: click here to read about the birth of Athena.) The last months of the pregnancy were carried out this way, and when the time came, Zeus cut open his leg again and Dionysus was born – a name that means ‘twice born’. The wee demigod was handed over to Hermes, who delivered him to some nymphs on Mount Nysa to raise him.

I will continue the story of Dionysus tomorrow, so stay tuned if you want to know how he became not only a god, but one of the twelve Olympians!

Semele – be careful what you wish for

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For today’s prompt I opened my book to another Greek myth: the one about Phaëton. He was the son of Helios, the Sun, and wanted nothing more than to fly his father’s chariot. He used the same trick as Semele (making Helios swear an oath to the river Styx) to get what he wanted. Unfortunately, it was very difficult to keep the sun chariot on course, and it didn’t take long for Phaëton to lose control and crash (this is what you can see on the image). He burned up a large area of land as well as himself before he fell off the chariot and the horses returned to their master.

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